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Early marriage robbed her of her childhood, but not the resolve to re-imagine a better future

Mbale district, Eastern Uganda - Jane*, was only 13-years-old when she decided to elope with her boyfriend in 2015. She had been living with her Aunt in Jeeja village, Kigumba sub-county, Kiryandongo district when she decided that she had met the love of her life. “I left school to get married to him, I thought he loved me,” said Jane. No one had talked to her about the challenges that come with child marriage, she learned by experience.

Now 19, Jane reflects on her marriage as a child. Shortly after she got married, she narrates, her husband teamed-up with her mother-in-law to turn her life into one of misery.  “My mother-in-law would use all insulting words one could ever imagine, and my husband would beat and kick me whenever he returned home from drinking,” she narrated. This happened almost every night.

It was not long before Jane’s mother-in-law decided that her son had chosen the wrong girl for a wife and advised him to get another woman. After all, she was from a different tribe. “They wanted me out of their home,” she said.

With a six-month-old pregnancy and a two-year-old son, Jane was stuck. The Child and Family Protection Unit at Kiryandongo Police Station was her last resort.

“We received phone calls from the Kiryandongo District Gender Officer, Ms. Jackeline Achola, and the Head of Child and Family Unit at Kiryandongo Police Post, Ms. Florence Timbigamba requesting for support to reunite Jane with her family,” said Lydia Apeduno, Project Officer of ACORD Uganda, UNFPA’s  Implementing Partner. 

According to the district officials, attempts to talk to the girls’ husband and the mother-in-law did not yield any positive results. They recommended that the girl should be taken back to her parents in Mbale district.

ACORD, the Implementing Partner of UNFPA, supported the district officials to trace Jane’s parents, who were happy to take her back home.

In July 2020, with support from UNFPA under the United Nations Joint Programme to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence (UNJPGBV), funded by the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda, ACORD facilitated the District Gender Officer and the Family and Child Protection Unit Officer to accompany Jane back to her parent’s home in Bugoho-Bualula village, Mbale district, in Eastern Uganda.

“Jane’s mother and father were so happy to receive their daughter since they had not seen her in five years,” said Achola.

According to the UNFPA State of the World Population Report 2020 entitled, “Against my will: defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality,” child marriage is one of the harmful practices against girls that cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their potential in life.

UNFPA estimates that 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children. Sadly, COVID-19 disrupts efforts to end child marriage. This will potentially result in an additional 13 million child marriages between 2020 and 2030 if no intervention is done. In Uganda, 43 percent of women in union today were married before the age of 18, according to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) 2016.

In 2020, under the UNJPGBV, ACORD provided support to 35 girls who experienced various forms of gender-based violence including, defilement, domestic violence, and child/forced marriage.

Jane was grateful for the support from ACORD and the district officials. “Thank you for the love and support. You saved me from a nightmare of a marriage,” she said.

As a follow-up, ACORD periodically calls Jane’s parents to ensure that she settles in and is encouraged to go back to school to learn a skill of her choice so that she can rebuild her future.

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*The name of the gender-based violence survivor has been changed to protect her privacy.

- Compiled by Francis Engwau, UNFPA Uganda.