Africans Using Facebook to Sell Child Brides to Old Men
And Facebook doesn't try hard enough to stop them
Facebook gets in trouble for both censoring too much and not censoring enough. Now it’s coming out that men in Africa use Facebook to sell their daughters as child brides. The company (of course) doesn’t want men selling their daughters online, but they’re not doing a lot to stop it.
The Daily Beast investigated the practice in Nigeria. Many communities consider having more than one wife a status symbol. A man may buy more wives if he can afford them, and may sell his daughters if he needs or wants the money.
Known as “money marriage,” the practice involves girls as young as 10. The men are often old enough to be their grandfathers. In the past, a father might have to actively look for buyers. Now Facebook sort of lets them advertise. Since some older men aren’t familiar with Facebook and smartphones, their younger relatives help them post the photos of their daughters on the site. Or look on Facebook to find new wives.
The Daily Beast looked at the Becheve community, a large tribe of 17 villages in the southeastern state of Obanliku. It has a long history of selling child brides, often called “money wives.” The husbands treat them like chattel servants. Their husbands usually keep them out of school and can even give them to another man. If their husband dies, they must marry his next-of-kin. When the money wife dies without bearing a child, her family must replace her with another girl in the family.
One of the child brides from Becheve who escaped her marriage, Monica, told the site about her experience. “Once he married me, he turned me into his slave and punching bag. He said he paid so much to marry me and so I had to labor hard by working for hours everyday in the farm to prove that I’m a grateful wife.” Her husband had bought her for about $50, two goats, a pig and some yams.
One of the men in the community told The Daily Beast that his uncle spends time searching for men to marry the girls in the extended family. He receives a portion of the dowry.
Expensive Child Bride
Facebook came under fire in November for posts discussing the auction of a child bride in South Sudan. Although the auction didn’t take place on Facebook, people discussed it there. Facebook took down the offending post after people flagged it, but more popped up.
A multimillionaire businessman won the auction by bidding 530 cows, three Land Cruiser V8 cars and $10,000. It is against the law to sell child brides in South Sudan.
George Otim, country director of Plan International South Sudan, said in a statement, “This barbaric use of technology is reminiscent of latter-day slave markets. That a girl could be sold for marriage on the world’s biggest social networking site in this day and age is beyond belief.”
Facebook Moves Too Slow
Facebook is told about posts selling child brides, but acts too slowly in removing them. A spokesperson told The Daily Mail that “any form of human trafficking — whether posts, pages, ads or groups — is not allowed on Facebook and we remove this content whenever we identify it.”
What about the sales in the Becheve community? A spokesperson told The Daily Beast that they were not familiar with the practice in that community. But if the site knew, how could Facebook miss it?
Is Facebook doing enough to stop the posts? Could it be doing more? Facebook thinks it is doing enough. It is very hard to police a site that big.
But the company could respond in more creative ways. For example, why doesn’t it start an awareness campaign to inform Africans about the posts and tell them to report them. That would stop some sales earlier. With more care, Facebook could save some girls from becoming child brides.
Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.