Courts Refused To Punish Mothers & Children For Polygamy
Farouk Martins Aresa
Africans, Asians and older cultures are not the only ones who can not imagine why mothers and children would be punished for polygamy they never perpetrated, nor imagine it would happen in cultures that practice polyandry. U.S Texas courts agree. It was the Irish, Italians and Africans the day before, gays yesterday, polygamists today. Some of us are surprised at the vigor in which the pursuit of individual or minority right flourished, if there is the will to protest and protect that right, all the way to the highest court in the land.
No matter what anyone thinks about United States lately, it is one of the most transparent countries in the world with built in internal structure to correct mood waves and mob justice. Against all odds, United States has produced the first African Presidential candidates from a major Party, while the Edo, Igala, Idoma, Ibibio and other minorities wonder when their turns will come in Nigeria. It is on this background that women and children prevailed in the Texas Supreme Court.
Polygamy is not legal in the United States. It is one of those crime that if you do not flaunt, most authorities treat like “don’t ask don’t tell” law of the lesbians and gays in the military. The American Indians have some of their own Native laws that are not subject to the General laws. Nevertheless, the victory of the mothers and children of polygamists in the Texas Appeals Court followed by affirmation in the Texas Supreme Court deserve some commendations. This and many rulings in favor of individual rights are unique in America and sometimes even to a fault at the expense of common or communal good.
There may be a serious crime here which nobody can tolerate. It is the abuse of pubescent children. The practice of polygamy in most part of the world is not an excuse to violate underage girls. We must admit, however, that in cultures where underage girls are bestowed to young cousins as in European royal culture, advanced to young men as in African culture or even given to wealthy older men, these children are not to be touched until they reached matured age.
It is more important these days because unlike those days, education occupies them until over the age of puberty or maturity. In these days, children have access to good nutrition and they tend to reach the age of puberty earlier than ever. A girl of 12 or 13 years of age is not matured enough to engage in sex or develop the type of cervix or pelvis conducive for child birth. These contribute to low birth weight, premature labor, respiratory distress, and accidents at birth result in high social cost for the community, mother and child.
Any culture that violate the serenity of younger girls deserve the wrath of the law and must be punished accordingly. It is this sense of outrage that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services seized upon to violate the collective right of a whole clan of these polygamists. Sometimes we may disagree with culture of opportunist, racist and other vices practiced in a commune as amongst the Mormon Churches but it is not an excuse to descend on them and separate mothers and children who have not committed any crime. Indeed, it is easier to remove the perpetrators of those crimes.
There is a special bond between mother and child that must not be broken but for urgent and immediate danger. It may even be necessary if there is a danger of exposure, loss or injury that may result in irreparable harm to these children. However, it is not an excuse to overreach and snatch hundreds of girls and boys from their community because of the doctrine of polygamy bred in them by their parents. We can not substitute our abhorrence of certain type of lifestyle in place of immediate danger, threat or fear.
By the same token we can not use religion to cover racism, apartheid, false indoctrination or to satisfy our sexual and primordial urges. Whatever our differences with the Mormon Church, we can not allow their rights to be violated with impunity and both Appeal Court and the Supreme courts in Texas have upheld those rights.
Polygamy is a way of life for majority of world cultures which this writer can not afford to practice. It is not a cover to abuse young girls or boys because we hold religion at awe. Nigeria is known by some weird survey as the most religious Country in the world, yet we do not allow fanatics to get away with the abuse of children or women. A pastor who jealously set a woman on fire is awaiting death sentence and another who recently abused young boys is now in police net. The same is true in United States about Catholic priests in jail for abusing children.
Nigeria has many communal churches with extensions in Europe and the Americas. The fact that our polygamy culture may follow us everywhere does not mean we can expect the court to rescue or validate that culture outside of Africa. In a house fire in New York last year or so, a Somali family with more than one wife perished, but the husband never flaunt it. Some of our politicians keep other wives in mansions all over the world and one of them became news recently because of the Jefferson case. We are yet to hear of one case of abused pubescent girl under religious cover. Not that abuse of imported house-helps from Africa never occur, but not at a greater frequency than the host countries.
Before we are reminded of those girls given to Shagari in the eighties in Rivers State, all the newspapers and many Nigerians warned him that they are for “safe-keeping” in terms of education and nurturing, not straight to bed. So as Africans, we have nothing to be ashamed of as long as we take care of our homes. If all circumstances are equal, our children brought up where there is presence of a man are far better than homes without a man. A home without a woman is even worse for the children.
The Texas courts were not condoning aberrant behavior, but no Agency, no matter how good its intention can turn a whole commune into a single household so that hundreds of children can be separated from their mothers. The law does not prevent individual perpetrator from arrest if there are credible cases built against them, not emotional chaos.
Texas law, like many cultures, allows pubescent girls as young as the age of sixteen to marry with parental consent and younger girls must obtained court order: Texas Family Code Ann. Section 2.101 (West 2006), sec. 102 – 103 (West Supp. 2007).
Once upon a time, religion was not that much of a sexual or political albatross. That is still true in many parts of Nigeria, even in regions noted for riots there are still safe local areas. We have never used religion to cover sexual motives for taking only the number of women you can accommodate. What the whole world must accept is that once a man or a woman is bestowed with money and power as the head of a sect, there is that tendency to want more men or women. It is not a religious conviction; it is a human nature of want.