Girls Becoming Women, Too Quickly

“Girls are born so that people can eat. All I want is to get my dowry.” This is what an uncle in South Sudan told his 14-year-old niece after ordering her to marry a man who paid whooping dowry of 75 cows to marry her. Akech B. was forced to drop out of school and suppress her dreams of becoming a nurse. Akech tried to run away but her uncle found her and took her to prison. When her cousins showed up to take her back home, they beat her severely for dishonoring their family.

Aguet, also from South Sudan, was forced at her young age of 15 to get married. She too was forced to relinquish her studies. After leaving her home where she was beaten by her uncles, she entered another home where her 75-year-old husband beat her too.

Among girls between the ages of 15 and 19, 48% are married. It is not uncommon for South Sudanese families to arrange these marriages, neither giving these young girls a chance to choose for themselves nor resist without having to endure violence. Girls, not only in South Sudan, but throughout the world, are being subjected (often times forcefully) to child marriage.

The United Nations estimated that, in 2010, more than 67 million women, between the ages of 20 and 24, had gotten married before turning 18. A report by the Human Rights Watch discusses the impacts of child marriage on the female body. Studies conduct in South Sudan indicate that “child marriage has a significant negative impact on women and girl’s realization of key human rights, including their rights to health and education, physical integrity and the right to marry only when they are able and willing to give their free consent.” They are abused for not being able to conceive, for resisting sex, or just because.

When these girls do conceive, many of them just babies themselves, are exposed to grave health risks. According to the United Nations Population Fund, girls between the ages of 15 and 20 are twice as likely to die during childbirth as women in their 20’s. The United Nations Population Fund. 

There is an entire list of fundamental human rights that these girls are denied on a daily basis. They don’t know what it’s like to receive a real education, to consent to marriage, to consent to child-bearing, to be able to take care of their bodies.

Is it possible to give these girls a better life? Who, if anybody, could remedy these injustices? Or is the South Sudanese culture too polluted at this point? What will this mean for South Sudan’s population, if more than half of its female population is marrying at a young age and experiencing health issues (or death)? Will it take a decline in reproduction and population rates for change to come about?

For more information, please use the following links: Newsweek; Human Rights Watch.

3 comments

  1. I refuse to believe that Sudan is too polluted to be fixed. However, any solution would potentially take multiple generations to counteract the centuries of social norms that allowed this type of behavior.
    Globalization is not always beneficial, but this is a situation where open communications between countries can do some good. With increasing access to media from other countries, it would be easier to show that the current way is not the only way. With the rise of the internet, it is easier than ever to communicate across the world. I do not know how prevalent the internet is in South Sudan, but ease of access should be a priority. A large emphasis on foreign languages could also facilitate communication with other cultures.
    This type of social change must start with the youth, who would be more receptive to outside influences. As they become older, hopefully their views are more sympathetic, which could pass on to the next generation. This may all be wishful thinking, but I do believe that social change of the magnitude needed is possible.

  2. It always saddens me when I read about how females are being treated in certain areas of the world. So many areas of the world are growing and continuing to recognize and improve the position of women but there are still areas that have done nothing. I could not imagine being forced to give up my goals and dreams because I was sold by my family to some old, abusive guy for cows!
    I believe it is possible to give these girls a better life but it would not be easy. As Amanda highlighted, this culture has been living this way for years which makes it difficult to stop these practices. The lack of growth in areas such as education and the fact that the South Sudanese government has relatively little power to implement change makes it difficult to change the idea that women are property. In order to help South Sudan, it starts with changing the minds of the younger generations. The world must reach out to these generations and show them that equality for everyone will help improve their country in many other areas too.

  3. I agree with McCallion in that changing this behavior has to start with the younger generations, by educating them and perhaps by new laws that they will be the first generation to be subject to. That said, I think Sudan needs to make and enforce laws ending this abuse, if only one step at a time. Perhaps first educate the nation about what abuse is, and penalize this behavior. Again, this would not just mean having laws on the books, but actually enforcing punishments for men and family members who abuse these girls. Within that, there should be a whole list of sex abuse education and crimes, so that both the older and younger generations understand that this is serious and it not to be taken lightly. Perhaps next there could be laws enforced regarding the age a child must attain before marriage, and perhaps within that a consent clause. I do believe that Sudan is deeply entrenched in its old ways of thinking, and perhaps the UN or other countries should get involved so that the Sudanese government understands how grave this issue is.

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