By Bakari Guèye
Dozens of MPs and journalists gathered at the Nouakchott airport last week-end to welcome home Mauritanian parents convicted in Spain for their daughter’s underage marriage. After a massive campaign mounted by local religious leaders and activists, the couple was expected to be extradited on Sunday.
To everyone’s surprise, Mohamed Ould Bouna and his wife were not aboard the plane from Madrid. A day later, a source close to the family said that the father had decided to serve the remainder of his term (three months) to avoid losing his right of residence in Spain.
“As for the mother, Hawa, her extradition proceedings have been delayed because she is suspected of having spoken to her daughter, which she is not allowed to do by the court,” the source said.
The case of a 14-year-old Mauritanian bride has gained worldwide attention after Mauritanian ulemas appealed to Pope Benedict XVI to help free the family. What began as a legal matter turned into a debate on tradition and cultural differences.
In 2007, Ould Bouna and his wife left Spain to visit their native Mauritanian region of Assaba. While on the family holiday in Karwa, they arranged for their 14-year-old daughter to marry her 40-year-old cousin. Subject to Spanish law, the parents and cousin-turned spouse were handed down prison terms.
According to El Pais, extradition proceedings started on November 7th. “They left Soto de Real and Valdemoro prisons in Madrid, bound for Barajas airport. Mauritanian police officers are to accompany them to Nouakchott, where they risk being released, to bring the affair to a close,” the Spanish newspaper reported.
“Interpol agents have assumed responsibility for transferring them under the agreement signed last year by Spain and Mauritania,” the paper added. “Under the terms of the extradition treaty, the daughter’s mother and father, found guilty by the Spanish courts, must serve out the remainder of their sentences in a Mauritanian prison.”
Mokhtar Salem, the young girl’s husband, arrived in Nouakchott on November 13th.
No official reaction followed in Mauritania, but the measure received a unanimous welcome from the public.
“Their release is simply justice,” Haja Mint Ahmed, a student at Nouakchott University, said. “They’ve done nothing wrong. In our country, we’ve always given our daughters in marriage before they’re legally of age.”
The family “has been a victim of its ignorance of Spanish law”, said shopkeeper Sidi Salem. “Their many appeals to the Mauritanian government to take up the matter with Spain went unheeded. Even in the National Assembly, MPs became involved but were unfortunately unable to do anything,” he commented.
Primary school teacher Mouloud Ould Soudani had a different opinion. “Our relations with Spain have been disrupted for three years because of this problem. We must learn our lesson and learn to respect other people’s laws when we are in their country,” he said.