5 July 2012

Uganda: Married K'jong Girls Rescued, Taken to School

Seventy-three children including five girls who had been forced into marriage by their parents in Amudat district have voluntarily accepted to go back to school.

The resident district commissioner (RDC), Steven Bewayo said the children were responding to the recent campaign dubbed, 'Go Back to School' that he initiated.

The campaign, funded by UNICEF was initiated in February this year and aimed at mobilizing school-going children and girls who were forced into early marriages, to go to school.

Bewayo said the children had been mobilized by religious leaders who were urging them and their parents to understand the value of education instead of grazing animals and looking at girls as a source of wealth by forcing them into early marriages.

The five girls went to the RDC's office after running away from their husbands, and three of them are aged 15 years while the two are 13.

The girls explained their ordeal to Bewayo saying they were being mistreated by their co-wives and husbands and vowed not to leave his office unless he took them back to school because they feared going back to their parents and husbands.

"Despite the torture they were going through, the girls feared returning to their parents because their husbands had paid dowry so they would definitely not be accepted back home," Bewayo explained.

He told New Vision online that some of the girls were the sixth and seventh wives in their respective marriages.

In Amudat, parents regard girls as a source of wealth, which explains why when most of them turn 12, they are forced into marriage in exchange for cattle.

Of the 73 children who accepted to go back to school, 29 were boys while the rest were girls and were taken to Kalasi Boys' and Kalasi Girls' schools under the Catholic Church, both located in Amudat town.

Before the five girls were taken to school, they were subjected to pregnancy examination and they were all found negative.

"They were still young and that is why they could not conceive yet some had been in marriage for two years, others for one year while others were in there for six months," Bewayo said.

The girls are receiving threats from their former husbands, they say.

One of the husbands stormed the school where the girls were taken but was denied access as management alerted security. He was a little later arrested and detained him at Namalu Prison.

The mothers of the five girls are also having their share of troubles.

They have petitioned the RDC alleging that they were being beaten by their husbands for "conniving" with their children to run away from their marriages.

It is said the girls' husbands had paid dowry of between 30 and 40 head of cattle which the fathers were not willing to give back.

Bewayo stressed that the five girls will remain at the school even during holidays to avoid being inconvenienced by their ex husbands.

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