For 25 cows her parents married her off at age 10 to 40yr old man
A group of young women, some pregnant, others breastfeeding and the rest in plain skirts and blouses teamed with lesus gathered under a tent at Amudat Town Council. Some chatted away animated while a few held their cheeks seemingly worrying about the day’s occurrences. One of these stood out, Celestine Cheredio who shared a story of how she was married off at 10 to a man 30 years her senior. Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU) had organised a students’ and parents’ dialogue on ending child marriage.
“It was a tragic night,” Cheredio recounted. She paused as if to recompose herself. “One Thursday evening my parents said they were feeling unwell and I had to stay home to do the chores.” However, none of them looked ill. She asked her mother whether she had gone for medical check-up. “My sickness does not require a medical doctor,” she told me and because I was young, I obliged,” says the 19-year-old. She is now three months shy from her 20th birthday.
Her day started with sweeping the house and the courtyard. At around 11am as she went around looking for what to prepare for lunch, she saw a herd of cattle grazing near her home. She did not bother asking because their neighbours would once in while feed their cows around the same spot.
“At a few minutes to 1pm, my father told me to wear one of my best dresses as I had to go to the trading centre to buy for him medicine,” she explains.
After changing into her nice clothes, the father changed the plan and asked Cheredio to first rush to the well and fetch some water. “I went [to the well] running so that I could return fast and go to buy my father’s medicine. On my way back, I was intercepted by a middle-aged looking man. Scared, I dropped the jerry can to run but he grabbed me saying I had become his wife,” she said as she clenched a fist and looked down.
Cheredio tried to scream in vain. Not even the woman who was in the nearby field bothered to rescue her. Instead, she sarcastically told the young girl to be strong. It was at that moment when the stranger informed her that he had already paid 25 cows to her parents as dowry. “I quickly recalled the cattle I had seen near our home. Meanwhile the man who looked to be in his 40s held my hand and led her me to his home which was about 13 kilometres from the well,” she says.
They walked fast and she felt a lump in her throat, worn out but her thoughts were reeling on why her mother had spent the previous weeks telling her about marriage. She could not get over her parents feigning sickness and throwing her into the stranger’s arms just like that. She did not talk to her husband because she was wondering what her new life would be like.
“I wondered how I was going to play marital roles at a young age because I had not been told any specifics since my mother had been speaking generally about marriage. Then, the idea of being called a wife and being referred to as sister-in-law did not sit well with me,” she says. On arrival in the quadrangle with huts, Cheredio was welcomed by her new relatives. The man was praised him for having brought a beautiful and promising wife. “They performed rituals as my eyes filled with tears.
The women realised that I was scared and told me it would be well and marriage was the most pleasant thing to ever happen to a woman my age,” she recalls. They ate and made merry but this gathering did not last as one by one, people had to retreat to their homes and leave her with the man she still perceived as a stranger. By 7pm, the man’s relatives had disappeared. The last guest left at around 9pm. Cheredio was left to her husband’s company.
Marriage and its woes
She describes her first night in marriage as a nightmare. “ It was time to face reality. We went to the bedroom but everything that transpired was painful. I screamed for help but no one came to my rescue despite the fact that our houses are close to each other. My husband insisted on reminding me that I was his wife. I woke up feeling weak and could hardly walk as my private parts bled. My mother in-law gave me some herbs,” she narrates.
Dr Christine Nabunya, a gynaecologist at Mulago hospital, says Cheredio’s bleeding was a sign that she was too young to engage in sex. “Bleeding meant that her private parts were forced to contain something they were not ready for. Imagine a 10-year-old having intercourse with a 40-year-old,” Dr Nabunya says.
Cheredio says this went on for the first three months as her husband’s relatives treated her with herbs. Backache became a constant complaint. Still, the relatives massaged her with herbs. As time went by, the young bride was headed for another battle of not bearing children. The war started after she failed to conceive in her third year. Her relatives raged as they hurled insults at her daily. She would hide to cry and contemplate many things including suicide. Then came the saving grace and she eventually conceived. About two months to the end of her antenatal, her husband took her to Kenya.
“I almost died in the labour ward. I was too weak to push the baby. The nurses did a great job to save my life and the baby’s too. I delivered a very weak baby at one of the clinics in Turkana,” she says.
Five weeks later, her husband forced her to make love and Cheredio started bleeding unexpectedly. She was again put on herbal medicine but this complication, she says lasted for close to a year.
Dr Nabunya says bleeding after delivery usually lasts not more than six weeks. Any bleeding afterwards could be as a result of an infection, or a complication that was not detected during delivery or having sex before you have fully healed. “For her case, it could have been due to having sex before post birth recovery,” she says.
To her rescue
Because of the challenges that followed after her first child, Cheredio was introduced to family planning by the doctors who visited the village. However, her husband lost his cool and started beating her up for not bearing him another child soon. To save her life, she stopped the family planning. She has now delivered three other children in a space of three years. Her second, third and fourth born are aged three, two and one.
“I also do not like having children this way but I have no choice. My husband threatens to hurt me if I ever use family planning again,” said Cheredio. Their father does not want to take them to school. Her first born hardly spends a term in school.
“His father says he should stay home and look after cattle. When I insist on taking the child to school, he beats me the whole night. I have now decided to keep quiet,” Cheredio says.
Asked why she is stuck in that marriage, Cheredio says their culture (Pokot) dictates that a man owns a woman once he pays dowry. The parents can never allow you back to their home because they fear that a man could go back to claim their cattle. Among the Pokot, a girl is ready for marriage once she can carry a 10-litre jerrycan.
Amudat district chairperson, Francis Kiyonga, says a study conducted by the district revealed that girl child dropout is at 96 per cent. This, he said, is the reason why the literacy level in the district is at 4 per cent.
“The problem we have in the district is because girls are perceived as a source of wealth. Girls are married off at any age. We have found it difficult to arrest the culprits because cases are never reported,” Kiyonga said.
The 2014 Ubos statistics show 78 per cent of Uganda’s population is below 35 years and more than 50 per cent is below 24 years. This has been attributed to child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
Bakshi Asuman, RAHU’s programmes manager, says they have resorted to conducting sensitisation programmes purposely to end child marriage and teenage pregnancies. RAHU has so far held sensitisation programmes in Amudat, Napak, Moroto and Nakapiripirit districts. “We educate the parents on why they should let girls study for their future. We also teach girls on how they can avoid being induced into sexual intercourse,” Asuman says.
Hamurani Tyamba, a teacher at Kalas Boys Primary School, says parents in Amudat trade animals for their children’s future. They see cows as the first priority that is why they marry off teenagers to get cattle or remove boys from school to become herdsmen.
“You may have 30 children in a class today but the next morning you have 10. Some return after sometimes while others don’t return forever. Parents in this area haven’t seen value in education,” Tyamba says.
On June 16, 2015, on the Day of the African Child, the government launched the National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy. The strategy outlines approaches and interventions that will end child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda.
Monday August 14 2017 A YOUNG GIRL’S ORDEAL. Her parents feigned sickness, and they tricked her into fetching water from the well. When she was returning home, a man in his 40s intercepted her and that marked the beginning of Celestine Cheredio’s marriage, writes JOSEPH KATO .