Last week, the media carried one of the most bizarre stories of our time where a nine-year-old boy married a six-year-old girl in Nakapyata village, Buyende Town Council in Buyende District. The boy, a Primary Four pupil at Buyende Light Primary School, and the girl, both of whom were reportedly born with ‘two teeth’, were married and given a ‘matrimonial hut’ to live in as a couple.
If this story was not accompanied by pictures, it would have been impossible for one to believe it. But in the accompanying photos, residents, who apparently presided over the ceremony, seem to be captivated by the events.
Such a story should not be treated as bizzare because we live in a country where many children are married off before they attain the legally accepted 18 years of consent for marriage. According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016, at least four out of every 10 girls are married-off before the age of 18. So these youngsters are among the many.
But this story raises many questions. Are there no community members with a moral conscience to put a stop to such an act? How come the media did not see this as worth a page one (cover) story? Is it because such norms are inculcated in our culture that even the media lens does not see a problem with it? Are there no faith leaders in a community like this one who can offer some guidance given that no religion could condone an act of this nature?
How can a teacher be so ignorant as to condone such a marriage by the pupil and even suggest that the boy reasons like a mature person and has offered her guidance in the past?
These and more questions need answers, but it all comes down to one thing – it is going to take the entire society to end violence against children, including acts of child marriages.
Society, in this case, includes the Ministry of Child Affairs, which should ensure the critical policies that are already in place, for example, the Children’s (Amended) Act of 2016 and the National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy, are properly disseminated. The police are also part of society, therefore, they should work towards ensuring the residents abide by the laws of the land.
Society also includes teachers who have to support children to stay in school longer so as to delay such acts like child marriages. The parents who are the custodians of culture should be discouraged from perpetuating such negative social norms and to ensure that their children are protected enough by sending them to school. They should also provide basic needs for their children and nurture them spiritually.
The civil society as part of this world must do more work to sensitise community members about their roles, responsibilities and rights. Such negative social norms such as child marriages are deeply entrenched in our cultures and we cannot just end them in a day, hence the need for a sustained effort by all stakeholders. It will take society to end violence against children and it starts with you.