Mary Malang Chol works at Mingkaman FM, a radio station that has operated in South Sudan since early 2014. The station broadcasts from a camp for internally displaced people in Awerial County, in Lakes State, northeast of the capital city, Juba. Recently, she aired a story on a sensitive subject—forced marriage.
Ms. Chol spoke to a young woman in the camp who told her, “I was 14 years old and I was forced to get married. The man was 46 years old. During pregnancy, I had a lot of complications.”
The young woman added: “I was taken to the hospital for delivery; it took me a long time to give birth. Finally, I was operated on to remove the baby because my hips had not developed and could not allow the baby to pass … I used to play with [other] children but now when I see them playing, I am at home alone.”
Her brave words sparked a debate throughout the local community.
The girl’s father said he had no choice but to marry off his daughter. He explained: “When there is nothing to eat at home and there is a girl who is ten years old, then do you wait? She could die before she reaches maturity … Look for the man who has cows to marry her and she can go away … [and] leave you to look after your other children.”
Forced marriage is illegal in South Sudan, and the legal age of marriage is 18. But the practice of child marriage continues. According to the International Center for Research on Women, 52 per cent of girls in South Sudan marry before they reach 18.
Ms. Chol interviewed a midwife at a local clinic, herself a victim of forced marriage. The midwife said, “Parliament [should] draft a law that will punish both the parents and the partners.”
Ms. Chol knows she’s tackling a complex issue, but says she needed to do this story. She says, “Women in my community are treated as second-class citizens.”
She suggested to the Mingkaman FM team that they produce a program on the issue. The station agreed to devote a discussion program to a debate on forced marriage.
Joseph Deng is News and Programs Editor at Mingkaman FM. He produced the one-hour show. The program included music with lyrics that address the dangers of forced marriage and the rights of young women. Mr. Deng also gathered opinions from local people in the market. Some said, “Marry your daughter young and you will be guaranteed lots of children.”Others disagreed, saying, “Children need protecting.”
In the studio, guests debated whether it is right to force young girls into marriage. During the show, people phoned in with their views. The conversation was lively.
Paramount Chief Sultan Gideon Alier Aluong is a local regional leader. He declared: “Today, [human rights] are at the corner of every family. [Only] when a girl is mature … is the time for marriage.… my daughter [will] marry into a family I know will take care of her.”
Veronica Ajak Ayual is a representative of the International Rescue Committee. She is unequivocal in her belief that forced marriage is human trafficking, and has nothing to do with poverty. She says, “It is not poverty that makes people force their young ones into an early marriage. If you are poor, sell some of your cows … but not your daughter.”
The debate may not have resolved the situation, but Paramount Chief Alier was clear in his stance. He said, “Real men don’t marry children.”
*Editor’s note: In order to protect the young woman, Mingkaman FM did not reveal her name to listeners.
To read the full article on which this story is based, Real Men Don’t Marry Children, go to: https://medium.com/local-voices-global-change/real-men-don-t-marry-children-8dc315dc7e58
Photo: Girls sing at a community radio station in South Sudan. Credit: Terry Thielen/Internews