Opinion South Sudan

Opinion: Why we should abolish Bride Price in South Sudan

Why Humanitarian Organizations and other Actors Should Develop Program Advocating for Total Abolition and/or Reduction of Bride Wealth Payment in their programming.

By Paul Ruot Bayoch,

Armed Dinka tribesman in front of a cow herd in Lakes State, South Sudan (Photo credit: Reuters)
Armed Dinka tribesman in front of a cow herd in Lakes State, South Sudan (Photo credit: Reuters)

August 26, 2020(Nyamilepedia) — I am fully aware that this issue is very sensitive as it touches the very core of our cultural foundation but it worth discussion for the benefit of South Sudanese women and men who have suffered enough and future generations to come. I know many of you who are reading this article now may already be victims of the circumstances. Some of you whether married or not may testify to this proposition. Some of you who are already married might testify to the facts I am about to share. And I know there will be some conservative group who would want to skin me alive for telling the truth. Yes, there are cultural values and traditions which are healthy and should be preserved and other which are taking us backward encouraging poverty, violence and loss of liberty (Enslavement). 

These practices which are unhealthy should be abrogated in totality as they are exposing us to more harm than good. Payment of bride wealth is one of those cultural traditions and practices which should be completely abrogated. I may sound crazy, stupid, ridiculous, westernized or whatever name you want to call it but I am deeply concerned about the level of trauma this practice is exposing our young girls and boys to tearing our very existence apart.  The history taught us that many communities in the world even during ancient times practiced “payment of bride wealth” in various forms. However, many countries and communities have currently abrogated unhealthy cultural practices to which payment of bride price could be one of them. 

In South Sudan, 75% of cattle raiding expeditions among the youth in various communities are fuelled by desire to collect more cattle for marriages’ arrangement. When youth go for cattle raiding mission, in the process lies massive displacement, killing of innocent women, children and elderly, child abduction, rape and destruction of livelihoods which prompt another wave of cycles of violence and more trauma. 

30% of the corruption cases are necessitated by desire to pay off bride price for more wives and entertain in-laws and support bunch of kids and wives who could not survive on employee salary alone.

10 – 15% of rape cases are perpetuated by young men who could not afford marriage because marriage cost a fortune.

20% of males in South Sudan end up dying of old age without experiencing the pleasure of establishing a family because they could not afford to get married.

30% prefer getting married outside their tribesmen because other tribes demand less bride wealth than theirs. 

10% of South Sudanese men perished in Khartoum Farming Industry trying to work in the farms to collect enough bride wealth for their marriages back in the villages until it was too late for them. 

75% of women in South Sudan would secretly tell you how they are being deprived of their rights because they had been bought by their husbands through payment of bride price. 

Do you know if a man paid bride wealth fully, he is entitled to own everything his wife produce through her sweat and blood?  A man who paid all the bride price own everything including the woman herself. 

How can we ensure the protection of the rights of women to Housing, Land and Property(HLP) and effectively prevent Gender Based Violence(GBV) if we are still keeping silence while allowing such marriage practice uninterrupted?

Since 2017, I had been conducting Trauma Awareness Sessions across South Sudan particularly in Akobo, Fangak, Bentiu, Panyijar, and Juba. In many sessions, most of the cited sources of trauma by many participants (both men and women) includes: Force Marriage, High Bride Price, Inability to get married, Rape, Suicide, Death of a loved ones, Revenge Killing, Cattle Raiding, Child Abduction, Displacement and many others. 

Digging down in the dirt, you can find out that all these are by-products of high bride price. In Nuer community in particular, inability to pay bride price would force a young man who want to get married to opt for elopement of a girl. If he indeed eloped, the brothers of the eloped girls would hunt for him. If they find him, they may kill him. If he is killed, his family would go for revenge. And the cycle of violence will be set in motion.

Those who could not afford to pay bride price prefer abducting female children from other communities to be raised as their wives and/ or sold to other communities and acquires wealth. Do you know most of cattle raiding mission are suicide missions? 

 I knew many potential youths who had perished because they could not return empty handed when they go for cattle raiding. The question they ask is what would they give to their in-laws if they return empty hands while pressure mount? You either die or succeed raiding cattle period.  

Do you see how such practice of bride wealth payment is affecting not only young men and women who want to get married but the peace of mind of majority of the populations and disruption of communal bound?

Two years back, I met a woman who was deeply concerned about her husband’s management of her salary.  In the first place she was forced into marriage despite her rejection. Her husband was illiterate and polygamous while this woman was educated and employed. When she received her salary, her husband would take charge and divide the salary among his wives who had nothing to contribute in the sharing. The working woman was devastated and could barely feed her kids. She didn’t understand why she kept working when she could not manage and plan what to do with what she earns.  She was disheartened and traumatized. She was in dilemma, if she tries to divorce, that’s a redline from the side of her relatives who had taken their share from bride wealth paid. Her husband was enjoying at ease the proceed of sweat and blood of his wife as he fully owned her for he had paid the bride price in advance. The worse part is that, even when the bride price is paid during marriage arrangement, the bride is not entitled to any share. She benefits nothing at all when she is the one to endure all the sufferings at last. 

I also knew of a man who had been denied right to marry and found a family because he could not manage to pay bride wealth. Now, at age 78-80, he helplessly struggles to survive with no heirs of his own.

 I challenge all the concern citizens, humanitarian actors and government to do some more research on the effect of bride wealth payment in South Sudan looking at it in different perspectives (Peace building, Trauma, Gender Based Violence, HLP, Human right, Reproductive rights, etc..). The result would be astonishing. You will find many research subjects who would testify on the negative effects of bride wealth payment and how it restricts and deprives them of their right to marry and found a family, and its link to GBV, trauma, instability and disharmony. 

For more than two decades, a lot of effort has been put on prevention of Gender Based Violence (GBV), Child Exploitation and abuse, and promotion of gender equality. Despite all the fund and support, little has been achieved so far. The intervention had significantly failed to tackle the root cause behind most  of the GBV cases. 

To have a better understanding of GBV in South Sudan Context, one has to look into the institution called family, the nucleus of the society and scrutinize how it is established and sealed through payment of bride price. The payment of bride price makes marriage, a “Contract of sale”. 

In my book entitled “Critical Evaluation of the Nuer Customary Law on Marriage” published on amazon and other major online book publishers, one of my respondents defined marriage as, “Union of a man and a woman whose validity depends on payment of bride wealth and observance of marriage impediments”. He argues that marriage is a sale contract (in South Sudan context) as its validity depends on ability to pay the bride price. It’s not based on free will and consent of a man and a woman as enshrined on international and local legal instruments on marriage.  For more info on this, please order this book on amazon. 

This so called “Payment of bride wealth” during marriages is where all the evils emerge which deprive women of their right to land, housing and property   as it entitles them to be seen as “Corporeal Chattel” ready to be invested and reinvested.  

The payment of bride price makes marriage a contract of sale as its subject to negation and bargain on the amount, and mean of payment in whatever form agreed upon by the family of the bride groom and that of the bride. During the bargaining in the eyes of the bride groom, he is buying a “Valuable Property” in the name of a wife who would produce bunch of kids including females to be sold in marriage, compensate his loss and get return of his investment. 

While planning to get married, the bride groom to be would do everything in his power to pay off the bride wealth including going for cattle raiding or corrupting public fund if need be.  When he successfully collected the dowries, he would proudly receive his valuable property (The wife) in which he will declare his dominion and superiority.  

By allowing payment of bride wealth to continue, how can we expect better treatment for women? How can someone who had suffered to collect enough bride wealth respect someone he had bought with his money/cows/goats?

Why buy a person in the first place? 

Fathers of girls in many communities of South Sudan look at themselves like investors who had invested in agricultural industry. When their daughters grew up and attend marriageable age, that’s time to reap what they sow by selling their daughters through marriages and acquires enough wealth through payment of bride price. 

They don’t seem to care how their daughters would be treated. They don’t care whether the person who apply to marry is an old man, mad person and whoever. As long as he has capacity to pay the bride wealth, that will suffice. 

One thing is true. When God created Adam and Eve, he never married Eve to Adam through payment of bride wealth. Adam married Eve free of charge giving him opportunity to establish his family, reproduce and subdue the world. Adam and Eve were equal partners and they had the same right as human before the God. History shows that Eve had even greater influence over Adam. That’s why he convinced Adam to eat some part of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.  

Legally speaking, such practice has no backing. The right to marry and found a family is enshrined in most international and local legal instruments. The family is recognized as the nucleus of the society.  Everyone has a right to marry upon attending age of majority. As it’s stipulated in article 16(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR), “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality, or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during the marriage and at its dissolution”. Furthermore, sub article three stipulates that “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.

Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) reiterated article 16 of the UDHR. Pursuant to article 23(1) of the ICCPR, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by the society and the State”. It continues by saying under sub article (2). “The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized.  In addition, the ICESCR has provided under article 10 that “The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children. Marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses”. 

At the local level, the Transition Constitution of South Sudan enshrined the right to marry and found a family under article 15, accordingly, “Every person of marriageable age shall have the right to marry a person of the opposite sex and to found a family according to their respective family laws, and no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the man and woman intending to marry”. 

One major setback in this provision is that it refers to “Respective Family Law of the marriage couple” when there are no family laws codified in South Sudan. The respective family laws referred to are the customary laws regulating marriages in various communities of South Sudan which support payment of bride wealth. 

This makes payment of bride wealth a recognized business backed by Christian religion, customs and traditions and the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan.

In conclusion, if we have to successfully ensure equal respect and protection of women and men right to housing, land and property and prevent gender based violence and all its evils, we should whole heartily advocate for complete abolition of payment of bride wealth in whatever form. I’m already a victim of the circumstances. This is not for me, it’s for my kids and many generations to come. It’s also for the welfare of South Sudan. Let work hard to fight negative cultural practice which are taking us back. 

Instead of seeing your daughters as opportunity to get rich, work hard to get rich by setting up a business for yourself. Girls are human beings and they cannot be traded like corporal chattels. Slavery in whatever form is prohibited.  Bride wealth payment should stop now in South Sudan. 

Paul Ruot Bayoch is a certified Master Trainer on Trauma Awareness and Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance officer. He can be reached through his email at paulruotbayoch@gmail.com. 

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