A planned mass wedding of 100 orphans in Nigeria has been cancelled, following widespread public concerns about the welfare of those involved.

The wedding, set for the end of this month, was sponsored by Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, the speaker of the national assembly in the largely Muslim north-western state of Niger.

It involved orphans who had lost family members during attacks by armed gangs.

Critics have expressed concern that some girls may be underage or being forced to comply for financial gain.

But the Imams Forum of Niger said the marriage ceremony would go ahead on 24 May and insisted the girls were not underage.

The ages of the girls were not immediately known.

Nigeria’s Women’s Affairs Minister Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye condemned the plan and said she would seek a court injunction to stop the ceremony.

Human rights activists in Nigeria have also launched a petition to stop the plan.

Following the public outrage, Speaker Sarkindaji has announced his withdrawal from the ceremony.

Some intended brides, who spoke to the local media, defended the programme.

Mass weddings are fairly common in mostly Muslim parts of northern Nigeria, where religious and cultural norms such as polygamy favour the practice.

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