18 April, 2013

"This old man can feed us, you will marry him"
Sphelele Ngubane

Many South Sudanese girls have become source of wealth for their families suffering poverty– through forced marriage, the 2012 Human Rights Watch research revealed.

South Sudan has been reported the leading country in Africa where young girls are rushed off to marriage as their families want to better off their living.  Families reach marriage agreements between themselves and choose marriage partners without the consent of girls.  They marry off their girls - as soon as they reach puberty - to a man who has offered a highest dowry, in a form of cattle or money.

The Human Rights Watch conducted a study in South Sudan on the child forced marriage.  They compiled a 95-page report titled: This old man can feed us, you will marry him.  This title is an answer one of the many South Sudanese girls got from her family when she rebelled against the forced marriage.

According to the 2006 Sudan Household Health Survey, about 48 percent of all South Sudanese girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, with some marrying as young as age 12.  Human Rights Watch interviewed 47 girls who said they were forced to marry because their families wanted to get dowry.  This is said to be a tradition many South Sudanese families believe in to overcome poverty.

“My father did not want to pay my school fees.... sometimes we had no food at home,” said Pontinanta J., who got married at the age of 13 in 2006.  Neither of her parents was employed.  She was told that her dowry could support her nine siblings.

The researchers established that many parents simultaneously fear that their daughters would get pregnant out of the wedlock as this would reduce the amount of dowry and the family’s economic advancement.  Marrying their daughters early is their solution to prevent this.

“If you decide to delay your daughter’s marriage, she may get pregnant, the man may not pay many cows,” said a woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

Some mothers have been reported to protect their children from these marriages, however in most cases they fail due to the pressure from family.  They force the marriages to have bread on their tables.  Aguet who got married at the age of 15 said his uncles beat her mother when she disapproved them marrying her (Aguet) to a 75-year-old man. 

“They said, ‘You will marry this old man whether you like it or not because he has given us something to eat.’ They beat me badly.  They also beat my mother because she was against the marriage,” Aguet shared.

The Human Rights Watch submitted their recommendations of their finding to the government officials of South Sudan.  They have asked for them to publicly support efforts to address the issue of dowry and its negative impact on the rights of girls and women in South Sudan.  They further urged the government to call for a regulation of dowry through consultation with all stakeholders, including women and girls.

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