October 30, 2016 (BOR) - A girl, less than 16 years old, from South Sudan’s Jonglei state, said she nearly died during labour about two months ago because of her young age and physical inability to mother her child.
- South Sudanese schoolgirls (Getty)
Achol Akim Garang said she was forced by her brothers to marry an old man after the latter paid 34 heads of cattle and about 40,000 South Sudanese pounds (SSP) nearly two years ago.
What aggravated her worries most was the unexpected loss of her husband just a month before she gave birth to her first child. The little girl, born to a poor family, was in primary three when she was told not to go to school again by her brothers who feared she might copy bad habits due to peer groups’ influence at school and western "education poison" as brothers put it. All these happened after her father died when the crisis of 2013 started.
"My father was a village chief, and he loved me a lot. He encouraged me to study. After his death, things changed. I was forced to marry a man I never wanted, because he was not of my age, and again I was not mature enough to mother the child," explained the young girl as tears rolled down her face.
Her brothers arranged the marriage at age 14 without her consent, even without putting the mother into picture, she recalled.
"By then I was still 14 years old. I could not do things that other mature girls do, because I was still weak. But they forced me to marry the man simply because they wanted cattle to pay as dowries for their wives," Achol lamented.
"Six months later I was pregnant, and had a lot of problems. I thought I was going to die. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night because of the trouble my brothers had caused to me. The baby was too heavy for me to carry in the womb, but God helped me," she said.
While at home with her mother, she was advised about things contrary to traditions.
"I was told not to eat food that would let me grow fat, because the child was going to gain more weight, which would result in labour complication during the child birth,” she said.
Achol also tried to avoid nutritious and energy giving food or any vitamins, but her condition deteriorated as she completely became weaker and weaker week after week.
She further recalled that she was not allowed to see doctors for prenatal care, adding that during her last trimester, she was unable to stand on her own and tears could drop voluntarily from her weakened eyes even when she was not crying. She remained indoor for most of the day.
"One evening, I was on labour, but I did not know. I thought something was burning up in me. I stood up, sat down, but there was no better way to resist the pain. I cried for help. My mother came and held me down," explained Achol.
She said she was in hard labour for three days before the child was born during which she could hardly drink water or eat food due the unbearable pain.
“I was abusing every man that passes nearby," she narrated, adding, but "Then finally the child was born. I did not wake up for hours because I was exhausted, and bleeding was serious. This time, I could hear people’s voices like birds, and nobody was clear in my sight, I was blind."
She cautioned that the experience she went through was horrific for a child like her, further revealing that she was married at almost the same time with her age mate, but she has never conceived till now.
Paramount chief, Alier Aluong declined to talk about customary laws when contacted by Sudan Tribune.
"We have no authority to tell someone not to marry underage. If the girl respects her parents to get married before the age of 18 years, we don’t interfere," said paramount chief Alier.
Per South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution, a person is a child when he or she has not reached the age of 18 years. Any marriage that involves a child of below 18 years of age is considered an offense, and is punishable by law.
Sources from Jonglei state ministry of education said such underage forced marriages are common in the communities, but no one has been punished for committing such an offense as the society seems to condone it.