“Many cases of forced and early marriages are encouraged by our traditional leaders in the villages because of a love for material gains,” said Lucky Ayella, a 16-year-old student at Dr. John Garang Memorial Secondary School, responding to a question on the causes of these practices.
For girls, and boys, it is not easy to avoid becoming a victim of harmful traditions prevalent among most ethnic groups in Eastern Equatoria. Children being mothers, frequently constipated with fear of what’s to come, have become such a common sight that the phenomenon is considered normal by most. This has led to many girls below the age of 16 leaving school to marry boys.
Boys are, incidentally, also subject to cultural demands which go against their wills.
“My father forced me to leave school and take care of the family cows and make them breed to help pay for marriages. He said that if I didn’t do it, I would cease to be his son. I still refused and left my home in Sudan to come to Torit,” narrated Safi Osman, another student with a story to tell.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan is playing its part to help eradicate practices that victimize girls and boys alike.
“You have to step up and ahead and let your parents and guardians know that you want to become someone they can be proud of, and that you will not allow them to ruin your lives because of issues of accumulating material wealth,” advised Eunice Apassnaba, a police and gender officer serving with the peacekeeping mission.
Over the last three years, schools in Eastern Equatoria have registered high numbers of students dropping out. Most of them have been girls, who have left school because of early and forced marriages.
Secondary school students in the region are also receiving sexual reproductive health education offered by a local partner of the peacekeeping mission, the Impact Health Organization.