In Becheve, a community in Nigeria, girls are forced into early marriages in exchange for monetary favours and for settlement of debts.
Becheve is a small tribe in Obanliku Local Government Area in Cross River. It is an eight-hour drive from Calabar, the state capital, and shares the same local government with one of the most populous ranches in Africa, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, now Obudu Mountain Resort.
Becheve tribe is now infamous for its tradition of forcing girls into early marriages.
In a video published on Monday by BBC, victims of the tradition spoke of how they lose their fundamental rights once being sold or exchanged for gifts.
Narrating her ordeal, Dorothy, one of the victims, said people had to hold her down for the man she was sold to to sleep with her. She subsequently got pregnant before she clocked 12.
She said: “The man said he’ll sleep with me. I said no because even his children are older than I am. They got people to hold me so that the man would sleep with me.
“Three men and one woman held me down as the man slept with me. I got pregnant from there but I was not up to 12 years of age then and too young to be pregnant.”
Another victim of the 'money wife' tradition, Happiness, aged 14, also spoke of her ordeal and the emotional abuse she suffered in the house of the man she was sold to.
“The man is old. He has children and his grandchildren have also given birth. He used to fight and beat me. One day, he told me that if he kills me, nobody would talk because I am his ‘money woman,'" she said.
Explaining why he was involved in the act, one of the buyers said the parents of the girls bring them to his house whenever they think they are fit for marriage.
“They’ll bring their children to give you. Some they would bring might be about six or 10 years of age. That means those ones are ready for marriage. They know how to cook and do everything,” he stated.
Pastor Akonam Richards, a child rights activist who has been involved in rescuing the children sold out in Becheve community, noted that the tradition gives the man the absolute right to do whatever he wants with the girl.
“The culture of Becheve gives the person who bought a girl the absolute right to do whatever he wants with the girl and children given birth to from the relationship. The buyer is the owner of the child. The man can sell his own child; he doesn’t divide the proceeds with anybody,” he said.
Maintaining that any child given as a 'money wife' is not allowed to go to school as they have become the man’s “absolute property”, he further stated that the man could give the girl out to another man.
“Some of them are put into child labour; some of them can be pimped to other men and when they even come back home with pregnancy, the man is glad because that is money,” he said.
Pastor Richards also spoke of one Monica who had had to sell her two granddaughters for her to fix her family juju.
He said: “People were dying in the community and she needed more money so she had to give out these children.”
Pastor Richards said the practice of 'money wives' is directly related to status acquisition in Becheve as “the more money wives you have, the bigger you are in the community”.
He also stated that it is very illegal as there are existing laws both in the state and Nigeria criminalising the act.
Sunday Ichille, Clan Head of Becheve, however, denied the tradition, claiming that the act last happened in the 90s.
“People still think it is happening, it’s no longer happening since the early 1990s,” he said.