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NEWS

The Price Of Being A Girl In South Sudan

In a world where we hear a lot about equality, South Sudan is far from it

BY Agnes Amondi

Jan 13, 2023, 07:13 AM

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A few weeks ago, we ran a piece titled ‘How The Legal And Family Sytems Fail Women’ after a convicted rapist was freed in Pakistan. His family and that of the victim reached an ‘agreement’ for him to make her his 'wife'.

This piece remains relevant and came to mind after I watched a video of an underage South Sudanese girl being sold off. The video was posted on Twitter by a Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono and it just breaks my heart that such things are still happening despite decades of fighting for the rights of women and girls.
According to Hopewell, the girl was sold off for around $750 after she was forcefully abducted from her village. You can tell from her face that she is scared but she has no power to fight back. She has no one to fight for her and protect her and is basically forced to accept whatever fate her sellers decide for her. 

The Situation

She is not the only one. The practice of selling girls off is deeply ingrained in South Sudan and the numbers paint a bad picture. 

About a third of the girls get pregnant before the age of 15 (according to UNICEF), only 10% finish primary school and the United Nations states that the country ranks fifth when it comes to child marriage.

What chance then do these girls have? The one thing a lot of people quickly ask whenever such stories come up is, where is the law? Well, the constitution states that marriage is only permitted for people above the age of 18 years but the reality is far from that.

The reality is that society or rather men see these girls as a means of making wealth. They sell them off for the price of 50 or 100 cows which is about $1000, the price that some South Sudanese fathers pay for their daughters.

The hunger crisis in the country has only made the situation worse. That said, I still maintain that it is not excusable. I’ve never been to South Sudan but there must be another way of dealing with such issues and selling your daughter is not one of them. 

Where Are The Women?

This is the other question that people often ask. Well, who is it that gives approval for their daughters to be married off? Who negotiates for the dowry? It is the men. As such, women have little to no say in these situations.

I’m not saying they can’t do anything - in fact, some girls have fought their families over such decisions - the message I am passing out is that it is a fight that some of these women wouldn’t want to put up with because they have a lot to lose.

Some come from impoverished backgrounds which means they have no money to sustain themselves and their children and so will abide by any laws as long as they have a home. Some of them allow it because that’s how they also got married and thus it is a cycle that no one is willing to break.

What About The Government?

In 2021, it promised to put measures that would see child marriage end by 2030 but it already appears like that will not come to pass. The situation is dire and is being exacerbated by hunger and other factors and who knows how things will turn out?

Lack Of Justice

These women receive no justice for the abuse they face. Some even decide not to pursue any legal recourse because their families will abandon them. 

What Can Be Done?

The girls should fight back. Absolutely. But, it is easier said than done. One girl who was interviewed by an international broadcaster said she accepted the arrangement to save her parents. She doesn’t like the situation but her aim is to save her family. 

It is so sad to see young girls like these being forced to choose between their lives and that of their families. Non-governmental organisations have chipped in and are trying to raise awareness and help these girls but more effort has to come from within. 

Men have to stand up against the practice. They have to recognise the power they have in changing the situation and saving the future of these girls. For as long as they negotiate for such to happen, it will remain a difficult practice to stop. 

What about the women? Well, it’s time they also used their voice and stand against it. At times we are meant to feel like we have no power but the truth of the matter is that resigning ourselves to such fate only maintains the status quo. And that’s what they want but they have to push. It will be difficult but the effort is worth it.