Lucca Poni, 23, hoped to finish school but she was married in exchange for 10 cows. (Sara Hylton / For The Times)
By Morris Dogga
As the economic crisis deepens in South Sudan some communities have taken dowry payment as a way of creating wealth for the family. Some families would opt to sell off their daughters to survive the situation.
Women and young girls often bear the consequences of heavy bride price tag imposed against them.
Emmanuella Meling (not her real names-to protect her identity) although all preparation leading to her marriage were almost completed, after the boyfriend delayed the process her parents decided to demand for more money citing the increase in the dollar rate.
“I was actually traumatized because I felt disappointed with my family members. I did not expect it to come from them. I thought that my happiness was the first thing to consider but really I did not know that they had something in mind. I am disappointed. I nearly went mad,” she added.
“They change it according to the dollar rate. It makes women like commodities on the market. Every time the dollar rate changes the bride prices would increase.”
For Meling it would be rather be a token of appreciation from the boy’s family depending on his financial status.
Bride price payment in some communities in South Sudan, the charges depends on the education level of the girl. If the girl is educated, there are charges for school fees.
But Meling said including the education bill in the bride price would make women more vulnerable to their husbands.
“If the husband pay the education bill it means he owns the girl’s education. He owns everything that is in the girl. I would wish the government to scrape out pride price. Let it be a token of appreciation without a price tag. Women are not commodities. They are human being,” she noted.
Denied by Parents
“If my husband would have not paid much money, my parents could be so concerned about me. But now they have taken what they wanted they do not care about me” a 30 years old who shall be called Susan to protect her identity reveals she had been mistreated by treated by the husband and the her parents when she did not conceive after having two children.
The husband threatened her and chased her out of the house because she has not given birth in the last six years.
After giving birth to two children, she has not conceived in the last six years and that has brought a lot of misunderstanding between her and the husband.
She got married 10 years ago and her parents took the bride price dowry.
In most cultures in the Country, the more ladies one has the wealthier he or she becomes just because they would be married off with a lot of money or cattle.
Kept out of the negotiation
During the marriage negotiation process it is the parents of the bride and the groom to negotiate on what amount of dowry should be paid. Neither the lady nor the mother would have any say in the process.
“This is culture. You are not supposed to even know how much they have given to the parents. You are not involved in the whole process because of the culture,” she said.
“My husband is now having lot problems with me. He told me that he had paid a lot of money after me and I am still wasting his money…. there are a lot of threatening words. Because I am now under his full responsibility. I am now like a property. My husband has now bought me using that money he had paid,” Susan noted.
The problem started about one year ago when Susan graduated from the University. The husband only wanted her to stay at home and give birth to children because he had paid a lot of money after her.
Before leaving for her aunt’s home, Susan went back to the parents. The problem was becoming worse but she was told to go back to the husband because they had already taken the dowry.
“I am now in between my parents and my husband. When I go to my husband’s place I am threatened and when I go to my parents they send me back. I decided to go to my aunt’s home,” she said.
Not getting married or getting married
Gak Abraham sitting outside Nyokuron cultural Centre (Photo by Morris Dogga)
Gak Abraham Geu, 23 years old who is in preparation to get married now fears he would even be charged more money that he could not afford.
He said the imposition of high bride price has prevented so many girls from getting married.
“The parents demand a lot of money of which the parents of the boys cannot have it,” Geu Said.
According to Geu the high bride prices tag put on women had greatly contributed to the crimes and cattle raiding in some villages in the country.
“Those who did not have the money or the cattle to pay the dowry would go and robe or raid so that they can raise cattle to pay as bride price for the persons they love. It is the reason why cattle raiding are rampant,” he added.
Geu said once he gets married he would only pay the required bride price according to his culture. But if they demanded more, he would not pay because it would discourage other men from getting married.
“Some men take it an advantage when they pay a lot of dowry. They take the woman as their property. They handle them the way they wanted. They beat them up. We should abolish it. What the men should pay should be an appreciation,” he quipped.
“Until I complete paying the dowry for my wife they would not give her to me,” said Jackson who requested the use of only one name.
It happened five years ago. Jackson said he was worried that his in-laws would raise the dowry since the pound has lost its value. “I have given up,” he quipped.
The bride price in some communities is about 20 to 40 cows. A girl who is seen as beautiful, fertile and of high social rank can bring as many as 200 cows.
Dhal Alony Deng sits under a mango tree outside his home in Tongping (Photo by Morris Dogga)
Dhal Alony Deng, community leader and a husband of seven wives said he had married a lot of women because he wanted to have a lot of ladies so that he becomes wealthier.
“If you bear a lot of daughters you will get more wealth because they will be married with a lot of money or cows because the marriage of these days is not like those days,” he said.
But the negotiation process on how much is paid depends on the relatives of the two families. Deng said he would not be involved in the negotiation process.
After they agree, the parents of the girl would only convince her to accept the marriage.
“The girl would not have a say on what the two families can decide,” he lamented.
There are no written laws or regulations governing the payment of bride price in South Sudan. Most bride price payments are regulated by customary laws depending from one tribe to another.
The Ministry of Gender Child and Social Welfare on Tuesday launched a strategic national action plan to end girl Child Marriage to end child marriage in South Sudan.
The Vice President Dr. James Wani Igga called for the scraping of the bride price across the country because it was a major factor encouraging early child marriage.
“We must decide on the payment of the dowry. In many countries around the world there is nothing called bride price to be paid after the girl when she gets married,” he said.
“We must stop the payment of dowry. If we don’t stop it child marriage will not stop in South Sudan,” he said.
According to Dr. Igga the lack of awareness among the law enforcement agencies had made it more difficult for the formulated laws to be implemented.
“The law enforcement must be sensitized because they were the ones to implement the Laws that have been formulated to regulate the marriages,” he lamented.
But Meling believes that if there were very strong laws the women would stand strong against such practice.
For Susan the situation can be changed if the local people are sensitized about the dangers of charging high bride price.
“The government should make extensive awareness deep in the villages. The local leaders and the community elders should well informed about the dangers of paying high dowry,” she added.