Forced marriage is not a new practice in Uganda. In the cultural context, before formal education was adopted by many people in Uganda, a girl was considered mature at puberty. And in Islam, which is practiced by many people in Uganda, a girl is considered mature as soon as her breasts sprout, and that is at about age of 12. But there is another factor-poverty. Many parents trade off their daughters for material gain.
The Muslims have a strong reason why they want their daughters married off early. Religiously, they cannot bare look at their daughters play with boys in the village – sex is only for the married, so they believe.
“When a girl makes 14 for example she can get married because she can do whatever a more mature woman can do. Women should go in marriage earlier in order to prevent time wastage,” says Sheikh Salim Walukagga. Unless they are doing something productive like education it is not good to leave a girl to loiter around because she will be spoiled or get pregnant while still at home.
But how do victims of forced marriage take it? Lindah Mbasege of Katosi in Mukono District says it was a hard pill for her to swallow when she was married off at an early age, but she was too young to understand how to react to her father’s decision.
“I was only 14 when my father forced me to move in with a man who was about four times my age. They used to drink alcohol together. I think he traded me for alcohol or something like that. It was hard for me. My two siblings were also married off in the same way to men who promised my father that they would pay for them school fees,” Mbasege says.
Hadijah Nabakiibi also curses early marriage. At age 14 she was already a mother. The sons of her husband would endlessly disturb her because they were far older than her and they saw in her not a mother but an agemate.
According to the African Human Social Development Report, compiled with data of between 2010 and 2012, from World Bank, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, Uganda falls among the 15 worst African countries with high numbers of forced marriages. At 46% of underage girls below 18 forced or lured into marriage, it is in the eleventh position. The research showed that Uganda, like other African countries with a high number of child marriages, is lax on the culprits.
Joy Namuddu, a midwife in Mengo Hospital, says that forced marriage at an early age can have a negative impact on the health of the girl.
“Sex will be a pain for her. It can cause abdominal complications and giving birth can be complicated for victims of early age marriages. It is one of the reasons keeping maternal mortality still very high,” she says.
Apart from the negative health effects of child marriage, the practice denies the victims the opportunity to choose what their future should have. This is a practice that should be condemned.