AMUDAT, UGANDA — Sitting at her desk in a classroom at Kalas Girls Primary School in this remote town of northern Uganda, 15-year-old Susan Cherotich narrated through tears how she had fled her parents’ home some six weeks earlier following pressure from her uncles and elders to marry before she completes her education.
The eighth-grade student said her parents were opposed to the idea, but the decision by the majority of her clan members to start a home with a man was more binding, a common practice in her Pokot tribe.
Susan said her uncles and elders wanted to sell her against her will into marriage for dozens of cows to an older man she had never met.
“I heard that the man had several wives, and he was willing to give out many cows,” she said.
“I left at night after realizing they were coming to marry me off.”
She took refuge at a police station before religious sisters took her to Kalas Girls Primary School in Amudat parish, run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix-Ggogonya. “My father pleaded with his brothers and elders to let me finish school, but they objected, saying it was the right time for me to be married off since schools were taking a long time to resume due to the COVID-19 lockdown.”
Susan is among thousands of girls in northern Uganda who have been rescued from marriages they did not want and taken to Kalas Girls Primary School, which is also sponsored by UN Women, UNICEF and the World Food Program. The boarding school provides hope and a haven for girls who have escaped genital mutilation and child marriage. At the school, the girls receive counseling and psychosocial support.
The East African nation is one of the countries with the highest rates of early and forced marriage, according to a 2019 report by UNICEF: The country of more than 45 million people is home to 5 million child brides. Of these, 1.3 million married before age 15, UNICEF reports.
The report also notes that child marriage results in teenage pregnancy, which contributes to high maternal deaths and health complications like obstetric fistula, premature births, and sexually transmitted diseases. It is also the leading cause of girls dropping out of school.Global Sisters Report, Uganda