Virginity Sales: A Poverty Alleviation Scheme or a Morality Watchdog?

He cuddled her and whispered, “I love you”. There was a long interlude between his proclamation and her, unexpectedly, saying she has to go.  As she stood up from the bed to wear her clothes, she wondered if he meant what he said. “God knows I love him but how do I tell him he has to pay for my virginity?”, she muttered to herself. He offered to drive her home but she refused because she didn’t want him seen by her parents. She is 21 but her parents still consider her a baby. They expect her to remain a virgin until marriage. However, if she doesn’t, the boy responsible for her virginity loss must perform the traditional rights.

As her taxi skidded across town, she reached for her phone and sent him a text.

“I should have told you earlier that as an Oghara girl, you have to come with your parents to my house to perform the traditional rights as regarding my virginity which you just took”.

He is an Igbo boy from Enugu State so he is not accustomed to the traditions of the Urhobo people of Oghara, Delta State. In fact, no non-indigene of the Oghara community is familiar with this tradition, except those who have had to pay the so-called virginity money. This tradition is so unique to the Oghara community that no other Urhobo clan practises it.

“You haven’t replied my text, whatsup?”, she asked via another text six hours later.

“Please, don’t avoid paying my virginity money to my parents because if you do, bad things will start happening to you and your family”, she continued.

“Still no reply? Well, I have done my part. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when dark clouds starts cycling around you”, she ended.

Worry kept her up all night. In the morning, she offered to go to the market, a task she hates doing. On returning from the market, she met unfamiliar foot wears at the door of her house. She entered to meet him and his parents discussing with her parents. She heard her father say, “You know she is a medical student so her virginity money is considerably higher than the average Oghara girl”. She felt disgusted. “How could her father, a Ph.D holder, be a slave to such an archaic tradition”, she wondered.

Her story goes on but pertinent questions must be asked at this juncture. Considering that the rate of premarital sex in Oghara is just as high as in other parts of Nigeria, is the popular argument that the tradition of virginity money reduces the rate of premarital sex logical? What about boys, who pays for their virginity? Is premarital sex even a bad thing? For the average Oghara family, is this tradition not just a poverty alleviation scheme? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do know that this practice is a subtle form of gender-based violence.

By Esther Ajari

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