Debt-laden parents in the south Nigerian region of Obanliku have been selling their daughters to older men since long before the internet even existed. Now, with the help of their tech-savvy sons, often-illiterate tribesmen have been listing their young daughters on Facebook to be sold into de facto slavery in what is known as “money marriage.”
As the Daily Beast’s Philip Obaji Jr. reports, girls as young as 10 years old (and by other accounts, age five) in the 17-village-strong Becheve community are often referred to as “money wives,” or “money women,” and are sold in exchange for food, livestock, cash, or to settle debts.
Like hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of girls from the Becheve clan who are victims of money marriages, Monica and her sister were sold without their consent. Their father wanted to clear the debt he owed to a distant relative. The two sisters got married a month apart to men whom they did not know at all and who were old enough to be their grandfathers.
Their respective husbands got in touch with their father after seeing the Facebook page where he posted photos of his six daughters to draw the attention of his tribesmen. The men of the clan have found the new technology helps to extend and expand their old, exploitative traditions. –Daily Beast
“My father knew nothing about Facebook until my elder brother bought him a smartphone and convinced him to join Facebook and post our photographs whenever he likes,” said 16-year-old Monica, one of two sisters who were sold to men over the social media platform. “He’ll buy new clothes and force me and my sisters to put them on before taking photographs of us.”
“It is young people who convince old men to look for wives on Facebook,” said Monica – a former child bride who ran away from her husband to live with friends less than a year after getting married. “The man I married said his oldest son showed him my photo on Facebook and directed him to my father.”
It’s not just Nigeria either – last November, Facebook took heat for posts discussing the sale of a 16-year-old South Sudanese girl who was sold for 530 cows, three Land Cruiser V8 cars and $10,000 – after a bidding war broke out between five men, including senior officials in the South Sudanese government.
Facebook said it took down the post as soon it learned of of it on Nov. 9, but that wasn’t until after the victim, Nyalong Ngong Deng Jalang, had been married off as the 10th wife of Kok Alat, a wealthy businessman from the country’s capital city of Juba, on Nov. 3. The post seeking bids for the teenager reportedly was published on Oct. 25.
After publication of the winning bid, Jalang achieved a certain notoriety in local media as “the most expensive woman in South Sudan.”
The money wives of Bechive are typically not allowed to go to school, and can be traded and sold between husbands. If a money wife’s husband dies, she belongs to his next-of-kin. And if a money wife dies without bearing a child, her parents have the right to bring another girl in the family to replace her. In all scenarios, they aren’t allowed to run back to their parents.
“The practice is meant to boost the status of the men in Becheve community,” said local Ogbakoko chief Magnus Ejikang, who added “The more brides you have, the more respect you gain in the community.”
Marital abuse and exploitation
“Once he married me, he turned me into his slave and punching bag,” said Monica, one of the two daughters sold over Facebook for 20,000 Nigerian naira (approximately $50), along with a pig, two goats and some yams. “He said he paid so much to marry me and so I had to labor hard by working for hours everyday in the farm to prove that I’m a grateful wife.”
Monica and her sister, who is still married to her 65-year-old husband, aren’t the only girls to have ended up in forced marriage after their photos appeared on Facebook. Regina, another teenager from the Becheve tribe, was sold in January by her parents to a man already married with two wives and 11 children. Her husband found her photo on the Facebook page of her uncle, who is notorious for putting photographs of his female relatives on the social media site to draw the attention of men from Becheve seeking child brides. She was then forced into marriage after her uncle pressured her parents, to the dismay of her older brother.
“Our greedy uncle, in his usual way of manipulating his brothers into selling their daughters, convinced my parents [to give out their daughter in marriage] because he wanted a share of the bride price money,” said John Ashua, whose 15-year-old sister Regina is now part of a plural marriage. “He earns a living by looking for husbands for the girls in the family even when they are not ready to get married.”
Regina, meanwhile, has dropped out of school to do chores at home, including looking after her husband’s livestock. She is frequently beaten.
“He beat me last night because I said I was tired and couldn’t have sex with him,” said the now-pregnant Regina, who added “Whenever he returns home at night, he demands sex.”
Facebook is hugely popular in Nigeria with about a fifth of the country’s 98 million internet users connected to the site. But in rural areas like the Becheve community, where literacy levels are not so high among the elderly, the social media platform is mostly common among young people, who are the greatest owners of smart phones. Activists say youths in the clan are actually the brain behind men searching for money wives on Facebook.
“The majority of Becheve men knew nothing about Facebook until their sons and other young relatives began to show them photos of young Becheve girls on the platform,” according to Nigerian women’s rights researcher Queen Eteng, who works for Our Women Network. “Most fathers don’t run the Facebook pages opened in their names. Rather it is younger family members who create the pages and post the photos.”