“She did it because of the culture”

Informative Article

Though it may seem like child marriage has decreased over the last decade, it still lurks among the shadows of today’s world. This article explores the misinterpretation around child marriage through three unique stories.

Though it may seem like child marriage has decreased over the last decade, it still lurks among the shadows of today’s world. According to Unicef, around 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, and if no change is made, more than 120 million young girls will be forced to marry by 2030.

There is still a large number of countries that practice child marriage today. Although there usually are reasons for this marriage, whether it is the family’s financial situation or for cultural reasons, people must still understand how detrimental this practice can be to the young child. Unicef states that around 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married annually. Almost all of these girls are not able to fulfill their dreams and education due to this marriage and suffer from depression. Most regret their choice and want to start over in life.

Parents of these unfortunate children often follow through with this practice because of tradition, culture, and religion. In this Trilemma article, we will be examining three child marriage stories that took place in three different countries: South Sudan, Bangladesh, and the United States.

Mercy Akuot: South Sudan

“How I Escaped Child Marriage to Become a Woman’s Rights Activist”- TED Talk

Child marriage is an extreme issue in the country of South Sudan. 58% of South Sudanian girls are married before 18 and about 9% are married before 15. According to UNICEF, South Sudan has the 7th highest child marriage rate in the world, revealing how many young girls are actually facing or are in risk of facing human rights violations and exploitations while also losing educational opportunities. One such girl, Mercy Akuot, managed to escape child marriage, and this is her story:

Mercy Akuot in TED Talk

Due to the increased conflict in South Sudan, Akuot’s family moved to Uganda where they sent her to school. Her father always said to her, “you can be anything in the world”. Realizing her parents were sacrificing a lot to send her to boarding school, she worked hard and aspired to become a lawyer.

One year, she returned home to celebrate the festive season with her family. After the festivities, she noticed that months passed and she still had not returned to school. To clear up her confusion, she went to her father and asked him why; her father said that she would not be going back to school and instead would be getting married to an uncle who was 41 years older than her. Falsely tricked into believing that she was returning to Uganda with her mother, she was taken to a hotel by her uncle and was stripped and assaulted for 3 days.

The next day, while she was at a local supermarket, she consulted with one of her mother’s old friends and told her everything; the woman hid her in a nearby hair salon for a month until Akuot could safely cross the border and go back home. Her parents, surprised with her return, tried to return her to her uncle, yet luckily the police intervened and sent her to a children’s home. There, she met an American woman who was touched by her story and found a family that could take her in. Her new family allowed her to go back to school and she graduated high school in 4 years.

After her graduation, she moved to a Kenyan refugee camp where her life took a turn for the better; she works a job that she’s always wanted to do: leading a team of women that mentor and offer a safe space for young women to share their issues. She is now in love with a man that loves her and supports her with everything she does. She also is a passionate singer, writing songs to empower women all around her.

Before finishing her speech she noted one thing: “my mom did not do what she did because she didn’t love me or because she was a bad person, she did it because of the culture. A culture that oppresses women and forces them to leave their education to get married at a young age”.

She expresses that in order to stop this practice, we must send young women to school and convince their parents to let them pursue their education and be whatever they want to be.

Sonhita and Monufa: Bangladesh