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- The Kazo principal probation and social welfare officer, Mr Polly Muhwezi, notes that child marriages disrupt the future plans of girls and raises health concerns.
Parents are marrying off their daughters at a young age in exchange for bride price in Ankole Sub-region, Monitor has established.
The bride price usually ranges between 10 to 12 cows and an agreed sum of money.
The situation was made worse during the two Covid-19-induced lockdowns in March 2020 and June 2021 that saw the closure of schools to curb the spread of the virus.
Mr Robert Agume, the Kazo education officer, observes that in the 2020 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), the district had registered 2,229 pupils but 54 did not sit for the final exams because some of them were married off.
“Girls were married off against their consent. There were about nine girls who never sat for their exams at the beginning of the second lockdown but we were able to rescue four,” he says.
Mr Agume attributes the child marriages to an archaic culture that views girls as a source of wealth.
“The belief is that it’s better to marry off a young girl than letting her give birth before marriage,” he says.
“Some of the challenges include poverty. A parent with about seven or nine children who fails to care of them hands the girls over in marriage. Some parents think girls should be married off once they are ‘big’ alluding to the traditional proverb ‘enyamwonyo kwekura eribwa’ , which is loosely translated as “when a girl grows up, she gets married.”
“The parents charge between 10 and 12 cows and between Shs2m and Shs4m. With that, they believe they have hit a jackpot,” Mr Agume adds.
The district police officer in-charge of the Child and Family Protection Unit, Mr Charles Bampabwire Kiribita, says they have recorded four cases of child marriages between June 2021 and May this year.
“When I receive a case of defilement or child marriage, we refer them to court to decide on the suspects. But it is a big challenge to get a case because those who are supposed to give us information are beneficiaries,” he says.
Mr Kiribita adds that the parents of the bride and groom negotiate the bride price without the knowledge of the girl, who is later grabbed while on errands.
“Girls are abducted while going home, they (perpetrators) keep monitoring their movement so that they grab them. They then inform her parents that ‘we have taken your girl, we are ready to give cows or goats or some money,” he says.
The Kazo principal probation and social welfare officer, Mr Polly Muhwezi, notes that child marriages disrupt the future plans of girls and raises health concerns.
“These cases increased during the Covid-19 lockdown, and given the poverty levels and the food insecurity, girls were seen as wealth,” Mr Muhwezi says, adding that targeted children are between 14 and 17 years.
“If there is no intervention, these cases might increase. There is a need to sensitise communities about the dangers of marrying off young girls,” he says.
Ms Florence Nuwahereza, the secretary for women’s affairs at the district youth council, accuses leaders of failing to act.
The district chairperson, the Rev Samuel Mugisha Katugunda, says some perpetrators go scot-free since parents connive with police to withdraw cases.
“We have very many cases reported to the police but parents bribe officers and the case is withdrawn,” the Rev Katugunda says.
He adds: “When I was still the Kiruhura District chairperson, I wrote to the Bishop of North Ankole Diocese telling him that he should not allow his parish priests to wed any girl who is underage. Sometime back, we arrested a pastor who wedded an underage girl. I have also been arresting families on weddings who get involved giving away underage girls.” Mr Katugunda says some church leaders connive with parents to marry off the girls. “Families connive with priests and they give the wrong date of birth then they marry a girl who is about 15 years but say she is 19. It takes a process to find out the actual age of this girl because she looks about 20,” he adds.
North Ankole Bishop Stephen Namanya says the Church condemns early marriage and started a girls’ school in the area to bring education closer to them.
“We have a policy which every clergy knows in the diocese that whoever marries a girl who is underage will be dismissed. We have also made practical actions to reduce early marriage and early pregnancies, we have built a girls’ secondary school because we know well that parents have excuses for taking their girls far from their homes,” Bishop Namanya says.
Mr Alex Buherezo Tugume, a community leader in Kazo, has partnered with youth leaders in the district to sensitise parents about the advantages of educating a girl-child.
Mr Buherezo started a school that offers adult education to encourage parents to appreciate the value of education.
“When a parent understands the value of education, he or she moves from the level of illiteracy to a level of understanding what can help a child and this can reduce early marriages in our district,” Mr Buherezo says.