The bigger the chunk of land a man owns, the more energetic girls he will marry in order to get free labor.
Story by; Prince Wako.
In the Eastern region of Uganda, lies Kibuku district. A predominantly agricultural district with the majority of its females living in the villages as opposed to males who prefer to stay in the urban areas. It has been reported several times on national television, that men in this part of the country marry more females and use them in their homes as a source of labor. The bigger the chunk of land a man owns, the more energetic girls he will marry in order to get free labor. Regardless of the labor provided, all proceeds from the harvests exclusively belong to the husband. I was so curious and desired to discover more about this young district. Kibuku was to be my home for the next seven days. My research firm had been contracted to carry out a household survey in selected villages in the district. Being a rainy season, the roads were muddy, slippery and most of the swamps were flooded. We drove through narrow paths, thickets, and forests, I started wondering if there was life in this place. We drove for over two hours, from Tirinyi town – Our destination was Buyemba Village. Deep inside, we found a series of trading centers. In these trading centers, we encountered several young men standing in cliques. They were drinking locally distilled gin. They laughed and raised their glasses in excitement. On several occasions, our driver made stopovers at different centers to ask for further directions, the journey was surely long. The sky was now clearing but the day still looked pale. We came across huge plantations of cassava and maize, the idea of these people thriving entirely on agriculture hit me harder. All gardens that we drove past were being attended to by females of all age groups. But the majority were girls of school going age. They worked in groups and sang songs of perseverance while they tilled the land. We stopped on several occasions, to greet them. Their reactions and responses were humbling. On both knees, they knelt as they held hand hoes with both their hands, responding to our greeting with smiles from ear to ear. Many of the girls that tilled the land, carried children tied on their backs and others were seen having water breaks while they breastfed their young ones.
Looking at the watch it was 1 pm, at last, I was in Buyemba – The village. We were welcomed by the LC 1 chairperson at his homestead. In this homestead, children came running, some fully naked and those who were a little older, half naked. It did not matter whether they were boys or girls. Girls tied threads of cloth around their chests and waists. One of the girls peeled a pawpaw and kept feeding the young ones who surrounded her. They raised their hands as they hungered for something to eat. Under the Orange tree sat a 16-year-old Totoye, she was breastfeeding her newly born baby. Her other child sat close to her, crying for something to eat. Totoye’s husband, Siraje, the 36-year-old son to the chairperson had just arrived from the trading center on a bicycle. As Siraje proudly greeted us, he introduced Totoye as his third wife. The chairperson smiled. Meanwhile, a lot of unanswered questions ran through my mind. “Mr. Chairperson”, his name was still a mystery. “Why are these girls not in school?” The school calendar clearly indicated that it was time for the end of term examinations. All the girls I saw there looked to be under the age of 16. Totoye was only 16 but already a mother of two, to husband twice her age. The chairperson looked at me menacingly and spat on the ground. “They are mere girls, just like any other grown-up woman, we do not need to waste any money and trouble keeping them in school. They do not have to go to school to learn how to be mothers. Their mothers are here to teach them what they are meant to learn.” The man was so serious and I could not believe what I was hearing. He continued. “I believe we have better things to do so let us go and start the survey near the stream.” So we walked slowly towards the stream, leaving the driver in the car at the chairperson’s residence.
That very evening, I started my household survey. The chairperson led me to the last hut, near the stream leading to the swamp. A two roomed shelter made of dry reeds, dry bamboo stems, and mud. With an old black polyethylene as the roof. The walls were bent towards the eastern side and it seemed like the wind was going to blow it away anytime. The compound was littered with garbage, broken glass bottles and it did not have a latrine. The stream was their latrine and also their nearest source of water. The only borehole on the village was 3 kilometers away from this homestead and thus not easily accessible. The family utilized the stream. The door was a rusty iron sheet that they tied to the bamboo frames using dry banana leaves. The two rooms were separated by a thick old blanket that was already wearing out.
This home had to families living in it. One husband, two wives and a total of seven children each child staying in the respective mothers’ room. By the time we reached, a lot of noise was coming from the small house. The chairperson forced his way in. It was darker inside, the natural light was not enough so I used the torch on my phone. Inside one room, mother and her three daughters – The first wife. The twelve-year-old girl lay on the papyrus mat, her mother sat on the floor in tears, breastfeeding her youngest daughter. The other six-year-old daughter was busy washing the blood off her elder sister’s thighs. The room was soaked, with no fresh air. The floor had been plastered with dry cow dung. The sight of the elder girl groaning and crying puzzled me. The chairperson wondered what was wrong as he asked questions one after the other. The mother who looked sickly and dehydrated spoke with a lot of difficulties – “She was raped early in the morning while she went downstream to collect water.” Her mother told us. The girl could not talk, she was in great pain and losing a lot of blood. The nearest health center was 7 kilometers away. She had not received any medical attention apart from the washing of her body by her younger sister. My heart sunk but I had to think of a quick solution, any kind of questions would be asked later but I wanted this girl safe.
In the other room, the second wife Manjeri and the husband scattered out of the house as soon as they noticed our presence. We were strangers in the house. I called the driver using my mobile phone and instructed him to drive downstream so that we could rush the raped girl to the hospital. Manjeri, the other wife and Isaka, the man of the two homes had fled, leaving their daughter tied to the bed in the room. The girl’s hands were bruised, she had been flogged by the parents all morning. Untying her, I asked her trust me. I later learned her name, Naisanga. While shedding tears, she cried out loud. “I do not want to marry that man… I want to go to school.” She was only 14, and her parents had already received the dowry for her, so at all cost they wanted her to get married to the chief elder of their clan. She continued. “My father came this morning and told me to get ready, he was taking me to my new home to meet my husband. I ran away towards the stream but the boys chased me and brought me back.” The girl was so frightened in that she kept shivering. I listened to her. “He became very aggressive and started shouting at the top of his voice. He slapped me and cursed the day I came out of my mother’s womb, spitting in my face several times. Together with my mother they tied me using this rope and started flogging.” I held the young girl and told her she was going to be fine. In my mind I had already canceled the plans of continuing with the survey that day, all I wanted was to see these girls in a safe place first. The mean looking chairperson was not that bothered. He did not want anything to do with providing a solution. Then I heard him murmur. “Useless girl.” As he rushed out of the house, the car reached. At that moment I did not care about the distance, nor how much it would cost, all I wanted was to get these young girls to the hospital. As soon as they were safely carried into the car, the driver sped off. I never slept that night until I was sure the girls had received proper medication.