You are currently viewing The Barbaric Child “Money Wife” Practice in Becheve, Nigeria.

The Barbaric Child “Money Wife” Practice in Becheve, Nigeria.

What is the worth of a girl child? In Becheve – a community in  Obanliku Local Government Area, Cross River State – the answer is livestock, food items, and cash as little as N5,000. That is all it takes for a girl’s life to be upended and submitted to sex slavery. The ‘Money Wife’ practice in Becheve is one that is as infuriating as it is heartbreaking. For decades, young girls in the community have been sold by their parents to service meager debts. 

Becheve money wife
Image from Tunde Onakoya

It’s hard to imagine that just beyond the famous Obudu Cattle Ranch, a tourism hotspot for people from all over, lies a community where the most sinister of traditions is rife. Becheve comprises 17 villages, all of which practice the “Money wife” tradition. 

Destinies Sold Off

Girls are being sold into marriage to men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers and mothering children of their own before they reach adulthood. Children are having children. The girls are often forced to quit school, so they can toil on their husbands’ farms, unable to benefit from any of the gifts or money given to their parents or relatives in exchange for them.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the girls are passed down like common property to the husband’s next of kin, in the event of his death. Moreso, if the money wife doesn’t have a child before she dies, the parents will have to give another girl child to the husband as a replacement. 

Some people even collect loans using their future children as collateral. This is how girls’ destinies are sold even before birth.

Once the girls are sold off, they are as good as dead to their families, unable to go back home regardless of how they are treated by their husbands and their relatives. 

In one bizarre case, a husband of a Money Wife planned to sell his daughter to pay off a medical debt incurred from complications she developed while giving birth to one of her children. The oldest child, then 15 years old, was to be sold, but she ran away, so the man resolved to use his 10-year-old daughter instead. The debt was worth N70,000. 

The intense life of pain has driven some to suicidal thoughts, the only thing keeping them going being the need to take care of their children. This is the case of Dorothy Akpang, now 27 years old with 6 children, who narrated how she would pray for death.

“That time, I just look forward to dying. I slept in the bush while working on the farm. I used palm fronds as my mattress. All these suffering, I don’t want any of my children to suffer it. I want an end to this. I want that all my children must go to school,” Dorothy painfully expressed to Channels TV in 2018.

Many of the girls are afraid to leave because of a supposed charm that will kill them if they desert their husbands. 

Before the man takes the money wife, he records all the gift items in an effigy called ‘Olambe’. To activate it, he then mentions her name 7 times and ties the Olambe. It is believed that the man could use the Olambe to torture or kill her if she defies him. If he places the Olambe in an open hole in a banana tree and cuts down the tree, she will be killed wherever she is. He could also place the Olambe beside a fire, causing her to experience severe internal heat. There are believed to be other ways of torture with the Olambe as well.

Why the Money Wife Practice Continues

Poverty is seen as the major contributing factor to the sustenance of the practice. When parents are in urgent need of financial help, they turn to wealthier men to bail them out, and these men in turn prey on their vulnerability by taking their children. 

Additionally, the dearth of banks in the affected communities or high-interest rates banks charge to give loans forces those in need to turn to local lenders instead.

However, there is a much more deep-seated reason: misogyny. This is not even the type of misogyny that sees women as the lesser gender; it is one that views them as less than human. Why else would they be viewed as goods to be exchanged, rather than full human beings who have the right to their own dreams, aspirations, and agency?

This is a misogyny that is so deeply entrenched that even mothers sell off their girls to these wicked men. Molded by years and years of this abhorrent practice, they are blind to see that they themselves are full human beings who cannot be bought with a price, and that translates to their children too.

How do you break a cycle when you don’t even see the cycle as a problem? How do you fight for others if you’re too tired to fight for yourself or don’t even see the need to fight?

The wealthier men of Becheve stack Money Wives like they would cars, livestock, or other items of luxury. Having a Money Wife is seen as a status symbol, a grotesque sign of accomplishment and wealth, and so the practice continues.

What Can and Must Be Done to Stop the Practice of Money Wife

Over the years, the tradition has been brought to light a number of times, with some NGOs trying their best to intervene and put an end to it. However, efforts have largely been futile as the tradition is still very much in practice. Whatever interventions are made for some are met by staggering opposition by those who uphold the system.

Tunde Onakoya, the convener of Chess in Slums Africa posted a thread on Twitter, shedding light on the tradition once more in October. Onakoya and his team hope to start a sustainable program there that will tackle the human rights disaster both on a systemic and an individual level.

The Chess in Slums Africa team, with the help of volunteers, plans to create a database for the women, pair them up with female mentors and provide capital for farming businesses. Camp 50 girls in one of the villages for a two-week chess and mentoring rehabilitation program. Educate the locals on the need to put an end to the practice. Work with financial institutions to provide loans as an alternative to selling girls; work with the village heads to create a law criminalizing Money Marriage. 

The hope is that this time around, the end result will be that the Money Marriage practice in Becheve becomes banished to history. 

This is not just a stain on their society, but a stain on humanity at large, so we must come together to do what we can to secure the futures of these girls.