Early Marriage Culturally Accepted Among Some South Sudanese

A case study by BMC Public Health in 2016 indicated that, young women living in conflict affected countries face risks that are likely to have negative effects on their sexual health and wellbeing.

Early Marriage Culturally Accepted Among Some South Sudanese
Alice Kiden, 24 years and a mother of two attending an event at the refugee settlement in Ugand [Photo|Paul Night]

By Paul Night

MOYO, 27 December 2017 [Gurtong]-Violence, deterioration of economic conditions, poor access to services and breakdown of community norms place them at risk of sexual violence, forced marriage, transactional and/or coerced sex, and other risky sexual behaviors.

However, quantitative evidence is rarely presented to support these reports of increased risks, and much of the increasing awareness of how conflict impacts on the reproductive health of girls and young women is derived from relatively small scale qualitative data, including case studies.

These studies provide highly valuable individual-level insights but cannot assess the scale of the impact at either a population level or for vulnerable sub-groups. For example, many qualitative reports and media coverage suggests that conflict increases the incidence of child marriage, but there is little evidence from quantitative studies.

Refugees’ camps in Uganda are experiencing similar challenges. On 16 June 2015, the Government of Uganda launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage and its first ever National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy (2014/2015 – 2019/2020), which was developed in partnership with civil society organizations, including Girls Not Brides members in Uganda, and UN agencies.

Led by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the strategy contains a multi-sectorial monitoring and evaluation framework, as well as an indicative budget for the implementation of the strategy, but an alarming rise in early marriage has been seen among the most vulnerable south Sudanese refugee population in Palorinya refugee settlement, Moyo district according the police.

Assistant Superintendent of police, Denis Ochirican, said the survey conducted in the settlement indicates that 2400 refugees’ women and girls living in the settlement found that more than a third of those surveyed age of 20 and 24 had been married before reaching 18 years.

“Among refugee girls, currently between ages 15 and 17 some 24 percent are married. Before the tribal war conflict erupted in Africa’s youngest nation in 2013 children were significantly less common among Ugandans because of the law prohibiting such act”, Ocircan said.

Alice Kiden 24 is a mother of two children. She was married off by her parents when she was 16 years old a primary school girl back home in South Sudan.

“It is the norm in the village around my country. You see young girls of my age by then were being sent off to get marries to satisfy the interest of their parents and their belief that we’re just meant to be housewives nothing else. Whenever I think of this memory, I cry of my future that is wasted already. I am still young but have no hope of getting back to school because I am someone’s wife now under his control,” she said.

Jerisha Poni, a South Sudanese who was one of the data collectors said: “I am convinced that no girl should get married before the age of 18 according to Uganda’s law. But when it comes to reality among south Sudanese here (Palorinya) it is different”, she said.

Rose Mary Kiden, a primary five pupil of Chinyi Primary school in Palorinya refugee settlement said: “I really try my best to tell my fellow school girls that getting married early will deprive them of their childhood. In our class sometimes with the help of our senior woman teacher (Madam Alice Kojoa) we raise awareness on the negative effects of child marriage”, Kiden said.

Hilda Nagenda, Programme Coordinator of the Child Protection Program Save the Children identified that early marriage is rooted in cultural traditions. “Early marriage is related to traditions and culture,” said Nagenda. “Some of the tribes in South Sudan here allow it, so it has become a tradition or at least culturally accepted. At the same time it is considered a way to prevent sexual intercourse before marriage.”

But she also explains that “in the case of South Sudanese refugees, there is also an economic factor.”

Job opportunities for South Sudanese refugees in hosting communities are scarce and with south Sudan’s conflict now in its three years, many families have exhausted their resources and are suffering from hardships.

She noted that the marriage of a daughter is perceived to be a way of alleviating potential poverty and at the same time can provide a form of income as a result of dowry money.
“These parents feel they are not doing anything wrong towards their child. For them, it is legal,” Nagenda explained.

However, international organisations such as Save the Children report that child marriage “often denies a girl her right to an education and leaves her far less able to take advantage of economic opportunities. “As a result, child brides – who are more likely to come from poor families in the first place – are likely to remain poor.”

In Uganda, child marriage is often a result of poverty. Many parents marry their daughters in the hope of securing their financial security. Bride prices can also be a motivation for parents: a younger bride means a higher bride price for the family.

Limited access to education for girls and traditional and social norms which dictate that girls are married at a young age in order to fulfill their role as a wife and mother plays a role too.
Displaced populations living in refugee camps often feel unable to protect their daughters from rape. Marrying them off to a warlord or other authority figure is seen as a form of protection.


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