SUDANESE TEENAGE GIRLS FORCED TO MARRY
By Raymond Padya
“He has dowry and you will marry him!” said Chief Kaelay Chol Ariik.
“If she still refuses, we will beat her and force her to get married, so we can get the dowry,” he said in a Human Rights Watch Report on Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan.
Women and girls in South Sudan are forced by their family members to marry as they are anxious to receive dowry payments. Families reach marriage agreements between themselves and choose marriage partners without the consent or knowledge of the girls and they are married off as early as possible to the highest bidder.
“Girls as young as 12 are getting married in South Sudan,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, Human Rights Director of the Human Rights Watch.
Dowry payment is the main cause of forced child marriage in that country. Since South Sudan is a poverty stricken region, most families see their daughters as sources of wealth, as their marriage brings cattle and other animals, or money to their family.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 47 girls who said that they were forced to marry because their families wanted to get dowry.
“The man I loved did not have cows and my uncles rejected him. My husband paid 120 cows… I refused him but they beat me badly and took me by force to him. The man forced me to have sex with him so I had to stay there,” said a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry a 50-year-old man in 2011.
According to Human Rights Watch Report, dowry payment increases the likelihood of violence against women by reinforcing stereotypes that view woman as the property of their family or husbands.
There is a story of a 17-year-old girl who was beaten to death in the report by her father after she refused to be married to an old man who had offered her family 200 cows. The report called for the South Sudanese government to address such human rights abuses that result from child marriages, which subject women and girls to unequal and discriminatory treatment.
As child marriage is rooted in South Sudanese traditions and culture, many girls are married off as soon as they reach puberty. The downfall to this is that they would also have to dropout of school. Those who delay marriage are labeled as “expired” goods.
Early marriage is used as a way to reduce teenage pregnancies and protect girls from pre-marital sex. In this way, the family will make sure that the amount of dowry to be paid remains high.