Mass wedding plans deferred in Nigeria, some girls, women marry privately

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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Religious leaders and a state lawmaker suspended their plans for a mass wedding of 100 girls and young women in northwest Nigeria after it sparked outrage, but some were married in private ceremonies, the state assembly speaker and one of the girls said on Tuesday.

The wedding plans in largely Muslim Niger state had drawn criticism from women’s affairs minister Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye and a local rights group that launched a petition to stop the ceremony. Critics feared the girls, some of them orphans, could be under age.

A team from the ministry of women’s affairs visited Niger on Thursday and Friday and met state assembly speaker Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, local Imams and some of the girls, Sarkindaji’s spokesperson Auwal Mohammed told Reuters.

Mohammed said the delegation was satisfied that the girls were above 18 years old – the legal age of marriage – and the ministry pledged scholarships for those who wanted to continue their education and financial support for others who wanted to marry.

“They certified the ages and fitness of the girls,” said Mohammed.

Ohaeri Osondu-Joseph, spokesperson for women’s affairs minister said the mass wedding “is not the concern of the ministry for now,” adding the focus was to empower the girls, referring to the scholarships and other support from the ministry.

Twenty-year-old Fatima Mohammed Mariga said she was among those who had intended to marry in the mass wedding but was informed by her legal guardian that the ceremony was deferred due to the controversy.

On Friday, she married her boyfriend at a ceremony attended by family and friends and a local religious leader, she said.

It was not immediately clear how many other private weddings took place but Mariga said she knew of nine other young women who were married on the same day.

“I’m not forced to marry him. I love the man that I married and he also loves me,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Ope Adetayo in Abuja; Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Josie Kao)

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