A Critical Analysis of Forced Marriages in Lebialem Division: Case Study the Mundani Tribe, Wabane Sub-Division South West Region Cameroon
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Forced marriages are a cultural practice where by a child is given into marriage without his/her consent. Once her/his parents or older relatives have decided and their decision is final the child is helpless and will be left with no option but to say yes to the marriage.
Forced marriages though frowned at by some intellectuals, churches and some members of civil society, is still practiced in the mundani tribe. It is claimed that it is for protecting the child from marrying in an outcast family and maintain their social status.
In this light, the main thrust of this study was to investigate on the reasons for the practice of forced marriages in the mundani tribe, its effects on the victims and on the community as a whole. This study was conducted more in an interactive manner with victims and elderly persons in the mundani tribe.
Mundani is one of the tribes of Lebialem Division. It is found between latitude 5034 and 5044 and longitude 9055 and covers a total surface area of 1800sq km it has an estimated population of 62.342 living in 40 administrative units known as villages.
It is boarded to the North by Batibo Sub Division of Momo Division (North West Region), to the south by Tinto sub Division of Manyu Division, to the East by Mbounda – Bambotous (West Region) and to the West by Alou Sub – Division of Lebialem Division.
Major access route to the council area is through Dschang (Menoua Division) and (Gusang Momo Division and Kumbu Bamboutous Division. Geographically, Mundani is divided in to three geographical parts, made up of the Lower belt, the middle belt where the council Chambers is situated and the upper belt.
The middle belt is highly leached and more exposed to soil erosion and landslides leading to its characteristic poor nature. Relief and landforms, in terms of landforms, it is very variable with three distinct topographical seasons and marks the end of the manyu plain. “.
In most cultural settings, forced marriages are associated with trauma and present a myriad of problems of varied nature.These problems are economical, social and psychological which accrue due to forced marriage practices.
Apparently, predicaments, disorganization and trauma of forced marriages are more likely to affect women than men. Forced marriages have existed for a number of centuries, and are deemed as unacceptable in current day.
Though in the 18th century, forced marriages were accepted in many countries, such as in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, it was always arranged by close family members and had to be accepted by both parties because of the society’s perspective of marriage during that era.
Forced marriages also known as arranged marriages were common among the royal families, those in high social classes, and religious groups such as Catholicism or Judaism. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, there were different types of forced marriages which varied between different religions and tribes.
Forced marriages were a common tradition of those who practiced Vedism (it’s the form of Hinduism that revolves primarily around the mythic version and ritual ideologies in Vedas) in Northern India and eventually spread to Pakistan and Bangladesh.
As society evolved, the intent of forced marriages did as well, as it was once for the purpose of growth of the family, grew into a more corrupt ritual that did more harm than good. Forced Marriages came into prominence in 500BC when Vedism evolved into orthodox Hinduism and social status became more of priority.
As the importance of preserving religious groups and culture grew, so did the pressure of forcing adolescents into marriages.
Additionally, it was a primary concern of parents that their daughters would reach age of sexual promiscuity and they would not be able to have the same control over their daughters either rather than when they are capable of being more independent.
In Pakistan, Vani and Swara, forced marriages were common marital customs in different regions. Vani is the cultural custom where young girls are forced into marriage to compensate for crimes committed by male relatives.
It is commonly young girls as young as four who are married off to men as a “blood for blood” type of punishment ( blood for blood is a type of sacrifice that sees blood as a divine thing and is used in ritual as cleansing for evil committed).
Swara is another forced marriage custom where young girls are married off for men to resolve feuds between different clans. Though both customs are illegal in Pakistan, it is continuously being practiced in different regions and is unfortunately difficult to be reported and resolve due to the over population and poverty.
In Cameroon, forced marriages are widespread and particularly prevalent in the Northern parts of the country. As a form of violence against women and girls most especially, the practice is extremely harmful to the socio-economic status, sexual reproductive health and psychological wellbeing of young girls and women. In the Mundani tribe, forced marriages are closely tied to their culture.
There is an over powering believe that ancestors are involved in blessing such marriages since it is mostly negotiated by the parents when the children are young. At times parents force these marriages on their kids in order to maintain their family friendship and social status.
In the Mundani tribe one predominant form of forced- marriages is done through the negotiation of parents when the children are still young or better still when they are born.
When some children are born, a traditional ritual known as “elleh” (a traditional ritual where a child is given in marriage at birth through the exchange of gifts by both families) is performed.
This ritual is performed when the father or mother of the born child especially the girl, receive gift from another family like a bag of salt, a fowl,, palm wine and kola nuts as a sign of acceptance that this child will marry to that family when she grows up. As the child grows to an age of reason, she is notify that she was already engaged to the said family at birth.
And the boy, whom she is engaged to, is also growing up knowing that this girl is his bride in future. So whether they love themselves or not they are forced to manage it until some physical maturity and at the end the total traditional bride price is paid.
Forced marriages though condemned by politicians, churches and some members of civil society, the custom of the Mundani people still borrow from superstitious believes to rationalize it as being a good thing.
It is argued that forced marriages perform important functions such as protecting the children from marrying in some out casts families and to protect them from promiscuity as they grow up a dream that is never guaranteed. This forced marriage practice subjects’ children to social and psychological trauma and denies their rights to make their decisions.
Embraced as a cultural rite of passage from one generation to another, children in the Mundani tribe undergo various rituals and are encouraged to get a spouse within a particular family.
This is known as forced marriages (FM). This arrangement permits parents, uncles, aunts, elder brothers, and elder sisters to negotiate marriages on behalf of other relatives without their consent.
The fact that children are not given the rights to grow up and make their own personal marriage decisions, means that they are forced choices on them as a condition for restoring the expected status of their families in the society.
This practice of forced marriages violates children’s’ rights to freedom. The view that children are forced with marriage decisions is a major contribution to the denial of their rights and obligations and no person may be compelled to do what the law does not prescribe.
The constitution which is the highest law of the land supports freedom and equality for all enshrined in the preamble of the 1996 Cameroon constitution is the fact that human persons without distinctions as to race, religion, sex or beliefs possesses inalienable and sacred rights.
All persons have equal rights and obligations and no person may be compelled to do what the law does not prescribe. It goes further to state that the nation shall protect and promote the family, which is the natural foundation of human societies. It shall protect women, the young, the elderly and disabled.
1.2 Statement of problem
Forced marriages have silent social – economic and psychological implications that are normally not pronounced. It amounts to social discrimination, economic deprivation and educational backwardness, driven by the desire of parents and relatives to keep their family ties and social status.
In most cases this has been done in total disregard of the rights of the children and their personal happiness.
This could be attributed to economic burden, psychological problems and personal issues. The law is to the effect that for any valid marriage to be celebrated there must be the consent of the spouses, therefore where a marriage is forced it draws attention.
One thing however remains clear that while forced marriages might constitute a social necessity, in that it is the wishes of the parents and relatives to maintain social ties, status of their families and prevent their young children from promiscuity, it has a potential to generate problems for an already beleaguered law of marriage.
Hence the Courts spare no opportunity to castigate forced marriages as being contrary to natural Justice, equity and good conscience whenever the occasion presents itself.
Forced marriages in the Mundani tribe still regards children as empty vessels, who have nothing to offer, that is to say they know nothing so ideologies have to be imposed on them. In fact the child has been reduced to an empty vessel there by dehumanizing them.
It is from this premise that this work seeks to analyze the practices of Forced marriages in the mundani tribe, to explain the position of the law with regards to forced marriages, and equally elucidates on the effects of forced marriages. Further brings in recommendations to combat forced marriages..
From the statement of the problem stated above, the following research questions will guide the conduct of this study
- What are the causes of forced marriages?
- How does the phenomenon of forced marriages occur?
- What are the effects of forced marriages on the child and in the society as a whole?
- How can the phenomenon of forced marriages be eradicated?
- This work is going to explain the causes of forced marriages. The people of the mundani tribe cannot jump up and start forcing their children to marry especially the females and some at an early age. There are certain factors that prompt them to behave as such and this will be explained in this work.
- It is also going to explain the various processes through which a forced marriage is carried out in the mundani tribe.