The rise in cases of gender based violence and forced marriages in South Sudan can largely be attributed to strong traditional beliefs and a high illiteracy rate. In South Sudan, girls are born to be married and generate wealth for a family through paying of bride price. Although it is common across the country, these practices mostly exist in rural areas and within pastoral communities.
In ancient South Sudan, tradition and cultures act as administrative principles upon which people are governed. These practice have however established an unproductive precedent that continues to erode human development in the country.
In Kapoeta County, approximately ten percent of male children go to school while many women admit that decision making in the family is exclusively the prerogative of the husband. “We have lost many girls to suicide related death in attempts of forcing them into early marriages, ” said a mother
Josephine Nakidor is 14-years-old is one such victim of early forced marriages. She lost her father and currently lives in Nangatun with her mother and uncles. Josephine narrated her ordeal, “As darkness fell one evening, my uncles sat me down to introduce me to my husband. I broke down in tears pleading that I should be given more time to mature. As I maintained my standpoint, I was beaten mercilessly together with my mother who was accused of influencing my opinion.’’
Having a very limited idea of her destiny, Nakidor found her way to the bush and trekked through a dark forest for three days before reaching Narus. She reported to St. Bakitha Girl’s Boarding School where many victims of forced marriages are admitted for counselling and learning. Life in the school is good, teacher told me that education will support me to marry a husband of my choice, I want to become a leader”, Josephine said.
Elizabeth Nakaya is 15-years-old and in primary grade two. She is too a victim from Lochie Payam. “I escaped from my parents in 2017 as they planned to give me out to an old man. I heard rumours circulating that my parents had a plot to give me out. My mother was threaten to be killed if she disclosed this plot,” Elizabeth explained.
“I spoke to my elder sister who facilitated my escape to the jungle before getting a small car on the road which then brought me to Narus,” she further said.
Upon reaching St. Bakitha School, Elizabeth was warmly welcomed by Sister Jane and a few other pupils. Knowing the implications of storming a religious school premises, the parents decided to use a Government official to persuade Sister Jane to release her daughter. Another attempt was made through an arrest warrant issued to allow the 15-year-old to go and answer charges against her in Lochia where the parents lived. All these attempts were unsuccessful as Sister Jane stood her ground to defend the girls.
For fear of being kidnaped by her own parents, Elizabeth unlike others, did not spend her holidays in South Sudan. During vacation she is escorted by group of sisters to Lodwar in Kenya for safety.Islamic Relief has been supporting St. Bakitha primary school through integrated WASH services including construction of emergency latrines, Rehabilitation of boreholes, assorted Vegetable seeds among others