A mother’s struggle to rescue her teenage daughter from forced marriage

The EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Programme through UNICEF hands over 360 bicycles to ease transport of para-social workers

By Denis Jjuuko
Girl rescued from forced marriage
UNICEF/UN0384989/Abdul
09 March 2021

In June 2020, Doreen Alango of Panyum B village took her son to the hospital in Kitgum approximately 50km away. As she was nursing her sick son, her neighbour had other plans for one of her other children.

Panyum B village to a visitor is cut off from the world. The main road leading to the village is overgrown due to lack of vehicular traffic to the area. Shrubs and tree branches make the road look like a footpath. The grass is tall and the drive to the area is like a trip to nowhere. Not a single house can be seen.

Looking through the window trying to notice whether there is anything, Ronald Ouma, the Mucwin Sub County Welfare Officer points to a footpath and asks the driver to stop. This is the furthest point the vehicles could go. Taking the footpath and walking past sesame and sorghum gardens, we find a homestead with a clean compound tucked away in the middle of a sorghum garden. The home given its cleanliness is a welcome relief.

Under a mango tree, we find 35-year old Alango. She struggles to stand to welcome us. You can see she has pain in one of her hips. She is not sure what the problem is but she hopes one day, she will feel better. A few relatives are going about their household chores.

Beyond the pain in her hip, Alango is suffering from another kind of pain. Her neighbour, a woman, assumes that Alango’s 15-year old daughter should be married off. Once Alango took her son to Kitgum hospital, the neighbour pounced — luring the young girl to seek a better life elsewhere by becoming a second or perhaps a third wife.

“My neighbour used my absence to lie to my daughter that life is better if she got married. So, every day I was away, she would call a man in a neighbouring district on her cellphone and the man would promise heaven to my daughter,” Alango says.

Alango didn’t immediately notice this on return from hospital. Unfortunately, her son fell sick again and was re-admitted to the hospital. The neighbour saw this as an opportunity for her relative in Lamwo to get another wife. While she was in the hospital, she was informed that her daughter is missing. She couldn’t leave her son unattended to but started making inquiries on where she could be.

“I returned home a very worried woman. On seeing me, my neighbour came bringing a letter from Richard Abong of Lamwo that my daughter is with him as a wife. I asked my neighbour, Grace Acoko, how she could do this, and she said my daughter was of age. She is just 15 years old,” Alango recalls with a tinge of tears forming in her eyes. 

“We may be poor here, but my daughter is not going to find a better life there. Without education, she will end up like me — poor and unable to afford the basics,” she says. Before COVID-19 struck that led to the closure of schools, Alango’s daughter was a pupil in primary five at a nearby school.

Worried about her life, Alango started devising ways to save her daughter’s life. She went to Mucwini Sub County and talked to the welfare officer and she filed the case with the Uganda Police.

 

“We traced Abong who is about 40 years old in Lamwo District and arrested him and referred the case to Kitgum Central Police for further management. Alango was re-united with her daughter." We are grateful that Alango reported this case. We are also happy that we managed to get fuel from the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Programme through the District Probation and Welfare Office to go to Lamwo, which is a long distance from here,” 

says Francis Osire, the Officer in Charge of Mucwin Police Station.

Ouma, the Mucwin Sub County Welfare Officer, was recently recruited with support from the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Programme to help provide such assistance to the residents. All the 12 sub counties in Kitgum and the two divisions in Kitgum Municipality now have probation and welfare officers to provide support in protecting children and reduce cases of violence against women and girls as well as gender-based violence. Each sub county also has para-social workers to help families overcome such challenges.

This is a result of UNICEF strengthening the child protection system in the district through building capacity of both district and sub county child protection teams. “This has led to increased financial support to child protection programs, establishment of the child helpline for reporting and tracking violence against children cases,” James Okello p’Okidi, the Kitgum District Community Development Officer.  

The EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Programme through UNICEF has handed over 360 bicycles to ease the transport of para-social workers as well as personal protective equipment such as gumboots. “We talk to families to solve challenges that exist and where we fail, refer cases to the sub county,” explains Margaret Akumu, a para-social worker in Obiya village. However, para-social workers don't deal with defilement and rape cases.

para social workers
UNICEF/UN0384957/Abdul

Mothers like Alango are now able to report cases to sub counties or police because of the multimodal awareness approach employed by the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Programme. “We involve cultural and religious leaders in our awareness campaigns about child protection and violence against women,” reveals Michael Ogweng, the Kitgum District Probation and Social Welfare Officer.

His views are echoed by Alexis Ocaya, a para-social worker and the Catechist of Christ the King Catholic Parish in Kitgum. “We have been trained to include child protection, gender-based violence, and violence against women and girls in our homilies. We talk about these issues all the time since as the parish, we also have a radio talk-show three times a week where we discuss these issues,” he explains. “During pre-marriage lessons, we explain these issues. We also bring in cultural leaders to address challenges couples are likely to face,” he says.

With such concerted efforts, there is hope that many parents will learn from Alango and support their daughters to live meaningful lives, attain education and be able to realize their full potential.