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Marital Rape and the Bride Price in Nigeria

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Marital Rape and the Bride Price

Lilian Ohanedozi

Marital rape is an issue that is grossly neglected especially in Nigeria, in fact a lot of people in Nigeria heard the term for the first time when I made a Facebook post on it. And as usual I was verbally attacked by both men and women. Some questioned the reason behind the post and dismissed it because Marital rape is not a criminal offence in the constitution but it should be and that’s why I started the conversation. That something is not a criminal offence doesn’t mean it’s not happening or that it lacks merit. It simply means that the law by not criminalizing it has legalised marital rape. I don’t need to state why this is very troubling and problematic. I have visited teaching hospitals and I have seen women struggling for their lives because of rape. The problem with marital rape is that no one pays attention to it and the victims cannot speak up because of the usual defence question “can a man rape his wife? The answer is yes a man can in fact rape his wife. We have seen drunk men do a lot of horrible things. It would be unwise to put rape beneath them. Their victims who are usually women are battered, beaten and raped. This is not to say that men are not victims of rape and even marital rape, but research has it that the number of women are high on this list. The WHO declared violence against women a global health problem of epidemic proportions. Research has it that 1/4 women experience sexual violence and 89% of those who experience domestic violence are women (Criado-Perez).

A lot of women undermined it and said marital rape is fun claiming that they would want their husbands to be raping them everyday, clearly they have no idea what rape is and it’s a relief that they are not victims of rape.

Then a lot of bible scholars went ahead to quote scriptures to justify rape, that couples should not withhold their bodies from each other. The bible of course admonished couples not to deny each other their bodies. This is good advice, but the problem with this line of reasoning is that it pretends that all couples are religious and that they live their lives according to the dictates of the bible. Reality negates this position. We have seen drunk men and women, we have seen couples who cheat and have women and men outside their marriage, we have seen couples with open marriages, in all most couples are not religious if they were maybe divorce won’t be on the high side, men won’t abuse and beat their wives, or even cheat on them or chase them out of homes because they are instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. What about those who are not Christians? Are they not citizens of the state? This is why the law must be free from sentiments and free from religion only then can it protect all, only then can it protect the powerless, only then can it protect those who religion is just incapable of protecting. Besides religion is not free from sentiments and this apply to all religion, some religion promote things that if allowed to happen, humanity will be at war everyday. Hence the need for the supremacy of the law over sentiments. What then happens if that law is inadequate like the Nigerian constitution?

Attention should be paid to the issue of bride price. The interesting and sad thing about the post I made yesterday was that a lot men used the bride price as a defence. One said “why should a woman whose bride price I have paid say No to me when I need sex, I have paid for her she’s mine, where was she when her father collected millions of money from me on her account” This right here is the fulcrum of the abuse women go through. A lot of men see women as a commodity they have bought and paid for through bride price, hence the woman is their property to use as they like. If this doesn’t have slavery undertones I wonder what does. I have to agree with Chimamanda Adichie who has called for the abolition of the bride price. The bride price may have been a valuable part of the culture in the past but today it has lost its relevance and the exorbitant amount of money paid in most cases has done more to reduce women to commodities other than give them the respect it was meant to serve. This “wives as property” mentality championed by some men is the frontline of all the violence women go through. I think we can do better as a people, rape within the confines of marriage should not be legalized. Before there were no laws for domestic violence, women shy away from identifying as victims of marital violence. We hear all manner of funny funny excuses like I fell, I hit my head by mistake, I woke up with swollen eyes etc instead of telling the truth about the abuse they endure at the hands of their spouses. If we could overcome this hurdle to have laws on domestic violence then we can criminalize marital rape, because a woman is a human being with feelings and the sole purpose of her existence is not for sex. In as much sex is a duty in marriage the law should understand that there are circumstances that can prevent a woman from fulfilling that obligation, take operation for instance. A woman who has undergone a surgical procedure needs time to recover and does not deserve to be raped for trying to preserve her life, because this was exactly what a man did to his wife who had just delivered via CS, she almost died because her stitches opened and exposed her belly, he couldn’t give her even a month to recover. A lot of women are drugged and raped by their husbands especially if the man is an addict. There are rapists in the society and these rapists end up in homes where they continue the vicious cycle of abuse. The popular case of the deceased Ochanya, the 13yr old drugged and constantly raped by her uncle who is someone’s husband and his son should tell us that there are sick people walking around. The rape cases in India is blowing out of proportion, these men are husbands, we need to pause and imagine what their wives go through. Most men who are rapists don’t rape women because they’re denied sex, they do it because it’s become a hobby, they are perverts, they’re sexual deviants. Hence the law needs to accommodate these clauses to protect both men and women. Let’s not oversimplify a serious issue like marriage by saying it’s an agreement, people are naturally complicated so expect anything.

My position is that marital rape should be a criminal offence because rape is a threat to human life, and because there are victims suffering in silence.

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