“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?