“My family called me a mistake for getting pregnant from my boyfriend of same age who cannot pay five cows for my dowry. They forced me to marry an old man with four wives because he can afford to”, says Akuac, 22, a 22-year old mother from South Sudan’s Tonj East County.
She adds, “Most girls in my village do not complete their studies even on the primary level because they are viewed as the solution to their families’ financial issues through marriage. Those who get the chance to go to school can lose it with one mistake such as mine.”
Besides conflict, forced child marriages, and hunger crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic became a big threat to girls’ education in South Sudan in Warrap State. “I was already in my senior one studies before the outbreak and lockdown when schools were closed”, she says.
“Many girls were forced into marriage and I knew that it eventually will become my fate. It did whenI got pregnant. My parents called me a foolish girl and told me to forget ever going to school again. Everything they said made me see myself as a failure”, Akuac shares.
Akuac’s husband works with the town council. “My husband earns SSP6000 (USD12) monthly but it takes several months for him to get paid with his salary. With our extended family, my parents just punished me with this kind of life after getting pregnant”, she adds.
World Vision, in partnership with Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nation's Global Fund for Education, supports girls with USD40 monthly to encourage them to study and complete their secondary education. So far, 25 young mothers have been sent to school by the initiative in Tonj North and Tonj East counties.
Most girls in my village do not complete their studies even on the primary level because they are viewed as the solution to their families’ financial issues through marriage.
Akuac and her child suffer from hunger as her husband’s earnings cannot provide for her needs. “In this community, most families eat once a day, only in the evening. The hunger situation also makes it difficult for young mothers to think of focusing on their studies with condition that we have”, she explains.
Farming can only be done once a year due to lack of rain. “I planted crops at home and was able to save some cash which I used to enroll in school in 2021. But when conflict broke out and schools were closed for some time, I had to use the money for our needs meant for my fees”, Akuac sadly says.
Akuac became a part of World Vision’s Cash Assistance Program for Young Mothers in 2021. “I started receiving the cash support in July. It relieved me from a lot of stress. I used it to pay for my school fees, buy food, and milk for my son Ngor since we do not have cows”, adds Akuac who dreams of becoming a teacher.
Angelina Ariich, a 21-year-old mother of one, is studying in senior three. She shares, “Aside from catering for my fees and needs with the cash assistance, I support my two siblings in school and my son’s needs. I appeal for more mothers to be supported in the community.”
James Ring Ring, Multi-Year Resilience Program (MYRP) Project Manager says, “The support improves retention and completion of secondary education as young mothers are able to meet basic needs. There should no more barriers for girls’ education in South Sudan.”
Most of these girls actually depend on this support to take care of their fees and needs. But when the project ends, their opportunities can also come to an end. Therefore, I appeal for projects that can provide continuous support to enable the girls achieve their dreams”, adds Ring Ring.
Story and photos by Scovia Faida Charles Duku, Communications Coordinator