Let’s protect young girls from forced marriage

What you need to know:

 I will tell you about my own relatives who still believe in forcing young girls to marry

It appears that governments in the developing world are failing to protect young girls from forced marriages. According to Plan International, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18 each year – nearly one in every two seconds. If we do not act now, it is estimated that more than 150 million girls will become child brides by 2030.

 I will tell you about my own relatives who still believe in forcing young girls to marry.

I am aware of the legal principle of ignorance juris non excusat. The principle states that ignorance of the law is not an excuse, and you cannot avoid responsibility simply because you do not know the law. However, knowing does not imply that you are not ignorant.

Even when people mean well, they may break the law because they are unaware that they are doing so. As a result, my case will be centred on education rather than the law or a search for someone to punish. Sensitisation, in my opinion, is the solution to this problem. Parents should understand how to pick between the girl child and the cows, as well as how better educating girls can improve the family’s standing.

I will use pseudo names for intention of protecting the individuals I am writing about. My cousin, Mauritia    Kabugombe, is married to Matia Tibenderana. They are rich with cows and live a happy life. However, in searching to expand their cattle wealth, they decided to ‘sell’ their last-born daughter 13-year-old Patience Natukunda for a price of 10 cows and Shs4 million. A 40-year-old neighbour, who is also a relative, had pointed at her and offered to marry her. She was withdrawn.

I was taken aback when I heard this. But I summoned my guts to begin peace talks with her parents. Beginning with the father, who explained that the problem was a shortage of school fees, and that by marrying her off, they would be able to pay for her older siblings. I offered to take care of all her requirements provided she could continue her education, but he stated it was not feasible because they had accepted the cows from the man!

The mother (my distant cousin) went ahead to explain to me that; early marriage would protect her from violence, especially in times of insecurity and she believed that the girl would be influenced to adapt terrible behaviours which could cause her to fail to marry. Also, men do not prefer marrying very old girls, getting a man very early was her chance since her elder sisters had gotten no one choosing them out.

Using my family’s educated and successful sisters as examples, I explained the advantages of educating girls and allowing them to marry men of their choice. I explained how early marriage is a harmful practice that denies girls the right to make important decisions about their sexual health and well-being. Because forcing them out of school and into a life of poor prospects, with an increased risk of violence, abuse, illness, or premature death, would affect both the child and her family. I realized I was speaking to a deaf ear; she was dead set to force her 13-year-old daughter into marriage for 10 cows!

I did not believe that reporting these ignorant people to the police was the answer to the problem. I began contacting their extended family members to persuade them not to commit the heinous crime, but they also sounded supportive of the plan.

 This poor 13-year-old will be taken to her future husband in August 2022 or before, and I am still trying to stop this to happen, I may involve police if my other efforts fail. But like I explained, this approach is not the best one. This can save this girl and have her parents arrested, leaving her other siblings suffer and drop out of school. It won’t also stop other ignorant parents from continuing to sell off their underage daughters for cows.

I blame the government for failing to sensitize these people against these practices. Affirmative action was brought about 35 years ago with the aim to give women the capacity to defend themselves against these vices. It did not work, we have women member of parliament in each district of Uganda, but even the MPs are equally ignorant and themselves should be educated about the best practices of life. Some of them attend these marriages and see no problem about it. They belong to the same cultures and beliefs.

 Early or coerced marriage violate children’s human rights. Even though it is illegal under international laws, it continues to rob millions of girls under the age of 18 around the world of their childhood.

Anselm Ssebuguzi