BENTIU, SOUTH SUDAN —
South Sudan dowry prices are spiralling out of control, critics say, and now girls are complaining that the high price their families can get for marrying them off is encouraging their parents to accept dowries for younger and younger girls.
Seventeen-year-old Unity State resident Nyapar Gatyiel Puok says she's lucky that she's still not married. Girls as young as 13 in her community have been married off by their parents, in exchange for a dowry payment of dozens of cattle.
She called on the government to put a cap on dowry prices or to enforce a minimum age for marriage, saying that the alternative is that dowries will continue to rise and girls will continue to be married off too young.
“A girl should not be married before she is 20 years old, because if she reaches 20 years of age, she is able to have responsibility and to know how to do work at home. At 13, 14, 15, that causes stress and that's not good," she said.
According to statistics from South Sudan’s Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, nearly half of South Sudanese girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, many of them against their will. Girls as young as 12 are married off sometimes, in exchange for a dowry.
Chudier Koryom Diew, a teacher, says dowry rates are out of control and can bankrupt a family.
“Some people, they are using their ladies or their girls as A source of
income, so when you have two daughters it means you will have at
least 300 cows," Diew said.
Unity state's Minister for Gender, Child and Social Welfare, Lubna Abdelgani, says the practice of high dowries was recent and probably introduced by people from outside the local area.
Her ministry is mulling a law to cap dowries, and she hopes it would reduce the number of early marriages in the community and help families who cannot afford to pay 100 or more cows for a dowry.
But there are dissenting voices, like that of 15-year-old Nyamal William Bol.
“Dowries should not be eliminated because there are some girls who
may cost a lot to achieve their studies in various colleges and universities, so the only way to pay back to her parents is to pay dowries when it comes to marriage,” Bol said.
Bol plans to finish university before she gets married, and expects to get a sizeable dowry for her family.