Nigeria's shame: Married, brutally bashed and divorced,and she's only 14
Maimuna is the face of young Nigerian girls who are forced into marriage, treated like slaves and then spat out to fend for themselves
Associated Press in Kaduna
By the time she ran away, Maimuna bore the scars of a short but brutal marriage.
Her battered face swelled so much that doctors feared her husband had dislocated her jaw. Her back and arms bristled with angry welts from the whipping her father gave her for fleeing to him. She was gaunt from hunger, dressed in filthy rags. And barely a year after her wedding, she was divorced.
It would be a tragic story for a woman of any age. But for Maimuna Abdullahi, it all happened by the time she was 14.
"I'm too scared to go back home," she whispers as she fiddles nervously with her hands. "I know they will force me to go back to my husband."
Maimuna is one of thousands of divorced girls in Nigeria, children who were forced into marriage and have since run away or been thrown out by their husbands.
They are victims of a belief that girls should get wed rather than educated, which drew the world's attention after Boko Haram terrorists abducted more than 200 schoolgirls two months ago and threatened to marry them off. Most are still missing.
Maimuna's former husband, Mahammadu Saidu, blames her few years of school for her disobedience. A handsome man of 28 who is obviously proud of his ankle-high boots, he does not deny beating his wife.
Nigeria, a young country of about 170 million, has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. The law of the land states that the age of consent, and thus of marriage, is 18. But the custom of child marriage is still ingrained enough that even a middle-aged federal senator has married five child brides and divorced at least one.
Across the country, one in five girls are married before the age of 15, according to the UN.
In the desperately poor Muslim north, where child marriage is often considered acceptable by shariah or Islamic law, that number goes up to one in two.
There are no official numbers for just how many of these girls get divorced, often ending up destitute and shunned by their families. But they are all too visible. A few miles from where Maimuna lives, children her age and younger sell their bodies to truck drivers, flitting in and out of vehicles.
Maimuna was saved from this fate by Saadatu Aliyu, who has turned an old family home into a school for divorced girls. At the Tattalli Free School, which gets by on private donations, a couple of dozen girls gather in the courtyard for a sewing lesson.
The tradition of child marriage is rooted partly in poverty. A marriageable daughter can bring in a bride price and means one less mouth to feed.
So in late 2012, Maimuna's father arranged to marry his eldest daughter to his best friend's eldest son. The son, Saidu, paid a dowry of US$210, more cash than Abdullahi had seen in his life. She was 13, and he twice her age.
Nobody prepared Maimuna for the marriage bed. There was no warning of what to expect, even from her married friends.
She settled into a new life where she felt like a slave. Every day she was exhausted, and when she finally got to bed, her husband wanted to "bother" her, she says. When she objected to her treatment, her husband locked her in their hut for days. She wasn't allowed to see her family.
Maimuna bided her time until the rainy season was over and her husband went to town to find work. Nine months ago, she took off, escaping to her father and begging him to let her return home. Instead, he whipped her until her back was raw. Then he summoned her husband and forced her to go back to him.
Saidu, humiliated and furious, beat her. She fled again, first to a sympathetic aunt in a nearby village and then to a cousin in Kaduna. She now shares a cramped room with her cousin's family.
Her husband waited the customary three months to make sure there was no baby. Then he divorced her, as a husband can do under shariah by declaring the divorce aloud three times.
Saidu says he will move ahead with his life. "This time I will marry a girl of 12, so that she will do what I want to do," he says. "Because if you marry a girl who is older, then she will not listen to you."
As he speaks, his eyes slide to the porch where Maimuna's 10-year-old sister, Hafsat, is cuddling a neighbour's baby. A sly smile curls his lips.