Child Marriage
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Child Brides Sold For Cows: The Price Of Being A Girl In South Sudan

August 03 / 2016

when the girl was 16, her uncle told her he was taking her to the family village. Excited about the trip, she packed the few things she had. She thought the plan was to meet relatives and see the birthplace of her father, who died when she was 10. She didn’t understand yet that in South Sudan, being “taken to village” has another meaning: She would be married off, against her will, to an elderly man she had never met. She would be the newest of his six wives. “My uncle needed cows,” she explained. In many communities here in one of the world’s poorest nations, daughters grow up with a single purpose: to be sold into marriage for cows to expand a family’s herd — the closest thing most people have to a bank account — and to buy wives for her brothers. Because it makes financial sense to marry off a daughter quickly, the brides are often children. Independence for South Sudan in 2011 brought widespread hopes for prosperity, an end to years of civil war and rudimentary rights for the new country’s 11.3 million people. But little of that has materialized. A wave of killings and sexual assaults has accompanied a new outbreak of fighting, and much of the nation remains trapped in deep poverty. Though South Sudan’s assembly even before independence passed a law in 2008 limiting the marriage age to 18 and over, it is rarely enforced, particularly in rural areas. Across much of the troubled country, young girls remain as much a commodity for marriage as they ever were. Roughly 17% of girls marry before they are 15, and nearly a quarter marry between 15 and 17, according to the government’s last survey in 2010. The vast majority of those marriages are thought to be families trading their daughters for cows. The bride price is typically 20 to 40 cows, each worth up to $500. A girl who is seen as beautiful, fertile and of high social rank can bring as many as 200 cows. The United Nations, which says the country has the world’s fifth highest prevalence of child marriage, has attacked the practice as a violation of human rights, a serious impediment to literacy and a major cause of persistent poverty. But attempts to wipe it out have faltered because under customary law here and elsewhere in Africa, women have fewer rights than men. The eight-year-old marriage law is resisted in many communities because it demands that impoverished rural families put at risk their biggest potential commodity: their daughters. Once a girl is taken to village, there is no way back. Schools empty. Friends and sisters are suddenly gone. Some remain, kicking the dusty path to school, dreams still singing in their heads. Some girls go meekly, melting away to a distant village to haul water and firewood, sweep, clean, wash, cook, give birth, work a lifetime. source:

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