A man has been sentenced to 26 years in prison after kidnapping a Christian girl from her home nad forcing her to marry him.
Ese Rita Oruru, was abducted from her home in southern Nigeria in 2015 at the age of 13 and trafficked to Kano state in the north, where she was forcibly converted and obliged to "marry" Yunusa Dahiru.
Dahiru, was charged with conspiracy to commit abduction, trafficking, illicit intercourse, sexual exploitation and unlawful carnal knowledge of a minor under the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act.
On 21st May a Federal Court in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, acquitted him on the first count, but sentenced him to five years on count two, and seven years each on counts three, four and five. The sentences are to run concurrently.
Speaking to Nigerian media, Ese's father, Charles Oruru, said the truth had prevailed, and adding that he believed it would "serve as a deterrent to those engaged in trafficking people's children."
Persecution charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said the case highlighted longstanding concerns about the abduction, forced conversion and forcible marriage of non-Muslim minors, which is particularly prevalent in rural areas of Nigeria's Shari'a states.
The charity said in early May the Hausa Christian Foundation (HACFO) reported that between 23rd March and 6th May, eight Christian girls had been abducted and subjected to forcible conversion and marriage. Three of these abductions occurred in Kaduna state; four in Katsina state, and one in Kano state.
Parents seeking the release of abducted daughters are generally informed they have converted, married and are in the custody of local traditional rulers. Appeals to law enforcement agencies for assistance generally prove ineffective amidst threats of violence and assertions by abductors that the girls are not minors.
Ese was eventually freed in February 2016, 24 hours after local newspaper The Punch launched a #FreeEse social media campaign that went viral.
She was reunited with her mother in the capital, Abuja, on 2nd March, by which time she five months pregnant.
A month later court proceedings were initiated against Dahiru in Yenagoa. He pleaded not guilty. He was eventually freed on bail after an unnamed benefactor met the conditions, but was rearrested for failing to appear before the court on several occasions.
CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We welcome this conviction and hope it will mark the beginning of an erosion of the impunity surrounding these crimes, deterring potential perpetrators and their enablers.
"It is unacceptable that young girls in Shari'a states continue to endure multiple violations of their rights to freedom of religion or belief, education, parental care and liberty and security of person, among others.
"The only difference between these abductions and those committed by terrorist factions in north east Nigeria is that instead of trafficking underage girls to ungoverned spaces, these abductors attempt to hide behind traditional authorities who may have condoned their actions.
"We urge the Nigerian federal authorities to become more proactive in ensuring the immediate return of abducted minors to their families, and to consistently prosecute anyone implicated in such crimes to the fullest extent of the law."