Cultural norm pushes 14-year-old Faida into an early marriage

"Today, when I hear the word marriage, I get scared"

Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye and Nami Nakatani
child marriage
UNICEF Uganda/2018/Adriko
08 January 2019

In Faida Harriet’s village, not many girls transition from primary to secondary level. Faida, aged 17, did not want to be counted among those that could not attain secondary education after completing her primary 7. Foreseeing the financial challenges that lay ahead when she joined secondary school, Faida opted to grow cassava for sale.  She was optimistic that the money earned would be enough to cater for her school fees and scholastic materials when the time came. She didn’t want any barriers towards her education. 

Unfortunately, one fateful evening as Faida returned from the market, a 27-year-old man, and three others wrestled her, forcefully dragged her to the man’s home and locked her up. She was not aware that the man had planned this, but she knew the implications, marriage. With no one to rescue her that day, Faida spent the night at the man’s home. 

Unfortunately, in Faida’s culture, when a girl spent a night in a man’s home, she was considered married. At only 14 years, Faida had been forced into a marriage. She worried about her future, thought about her dreams, while the man’s family jubilated upon receiving a new bride. Her future seemed bleak as she regretted why she had gone out to the market that day.

The marriage

Faida spent four days in the man’s home as her family negotiated her rescue but the impact of the incident is still evident in her eyes as she narrates her story.  “Life was very difficult, by luck I would eat food once a day.” She lacked necessities like soap, subjected to a lot of house work and insulted whenever she served food late, a very common occurrence in early marriages. “For all those days, I bathed with no soap and had one dress,” she shared. 

“Today, when I hear the word marriage, I get scared and it brings back the bad memories of the four days I spent in the man’s home,”

says Faida.

A lot of negotiations had to take place between the two families for Faida to be released. It is especially Faida’s mother who wished her to return home to continue her studies. Faida’s family would pay two goats, a cow and 70,000 Uganda shillings for her release as required by culture or risked being struck by a bad omen. Sadly, a family, whose daughter was robbed of her dignity was the one to pay for her release. 

The rescue process was led by Pastor Henry Ayikoba, who is also a para social worker trained by World Vision with UNICEF support, yielded fruit when Faida was finally freed from the forced marriage. To support Faida’s healing, the Pastor visited her occasionally for counselling sessions, before encouraging her parents to take her back to school.  

Philiam Adriko, Programme Manager for World Vision and Coordinator of the UNICEF-supported End Child Marriage campaign, funded by the Netherlands Government, affirms that incorporating para-social structures has ensured that communities take charge of protecting children and adolescents in their communities. The para-social workers have been trained and are now able to identify, prevent, respond and report all cases of violence against children in their communities, to the relevant authorities. Adriko also shares some cultural challenges they face.  “Culture is very important to us, but it has also negative aspects, which lead children to suffer.” To address this, cultural and religious leaders have involved in the campaign and they speak to their subjects in the communities and disseminate messages through their sermons and preaching and many have become our ambassadors. 

UNICEF Uganda/2018

Faida returns to school

When her primary seven results were released, Faida had scored highly. With support from Pastor Ayikoba, Faida joined secondary school and she was promoted to senior three in 2019. She is performing well, loves science subjects like physics and biology and hopes to become a nurse one day to help sick people. She is happy to be back to school where she says she belongs and she was welcomed warmly by peers at school despite her anxiety. 

Faida is determined to stay and complete school. As such, she supports her father to farm especially during the holidays when she is back home. They grow cassava and beans for sale to raise school fees and other necessities. When they lack market, they trade their harvest for school fees at her school.  

She advises both boys and girls to continue with their education and only think about marriage when they are old enough. 

World Vision’s Adriko boasts of a successful campaign. Several girls like Faida have been rescued from marriages and saved from many negative consequences. The strengthening of community structures to support child protection initiatives has ensured timely reporting of violence against children cases which wasn’t the case many years ago when such cases were never reported and many including criminal cases settled within the families.