Story by: Frederick H
We have dedicated ourselves to a lifelong cause, which we believe will provide sustainable solutions to most of the challenges girls grapple with, as they strive to live their lives on a daily basis. It does not matter where one is, the world is now a global village. Prince Wako foundation has been recognized as an action-oriented Charity organization with the zeal for Girl Child Empowerment. Over the years, we have initiated projects in Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan to enable the Girl Child from underprivileged backgrounds to attend school, get basic necessities, access clean & safe water and live a dignified life. Our team of dedicated individuals works to carry out a series of programs throughout the year, most especially in developing countries. We believe that action that empowers the Girl Child, is development oriented, geared also, towards ending child marriage. This development will definitely help the world in general, achieve quite a number of the Sustainable Development Goals. Did you know, that without ending child marriages, certain Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved? With the dark cloud of child marriage still looming over our societies, the ugly head of poverty will always show up, we will still have to deal with hunger, poor health, gender inequality, injustices, and poor economic situations. The United Nations estimates that over 12 million girls are married off all over the world every year before the age of 18. The same statistics inform us that girls from poor families are more likely to marry when still children as opposed to those from wealthy families. This means the vicious circles of poverty and inequality will be kept alive if child marriages do not become a thing of the past. These are glaring obstacles to development.
What then, are these Sustainable Development Goals? Which of these Goals has caught the attention of Prince Wako Foundation in its endeavors of empowering the Girl Child? In a nutshell, the Sustainable Development Goals were developed by the UN to succeed the Millennium Development Goals which ended in 2015. The United Nations General assembly developed a total of 17 global goals, aimed at transforming the world. The goals may be independent, but achieving each and every target attached to each goal will signal to achieve all the 17 goals. Currently, over 190 countries have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals and committed to ending child marriage by 2030. When these goals are looked at critically, one will realize, ending child marriage will lead to achieving more than seven of them, and if these goals are achieved globally, child marriage will be a mystery. In particular, let us look at eight Sustainable Development Goals, these are directly linked to ending Child marriage. Goal1: End poverty in all its forms, Goal2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, Goal3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, Goal4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, Goal5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, Goal8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, Goal10: Reduce inequality within and among countries and Goal16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
I was raised in an extended family, with people from a myriad of backgrounds. In this particular series as we analyze the eight Sustainable Development Goals enumerated above, I will share a life story that I witnessed unfold and I have lived to see its negative effects to date. While still in primary school, my parents invited one of my cousins, Justine from the village, to stay with us in Jinja. She had just lost her father, with nine other siblings, her mother could no longer support all of them. Different children were taken to different relatives. She was about twelve years when she came, the eldest of the girls in her family. From the village, her parents had never bothered giving her a decent education, they had no money to cater to girls’ school dues, and they kept her home while her brothers went to school. She cooked food for them and together with her other sisters did the caregiving in the home. They walked long distances to fetch water and firewood at awkward hours. They also took goats and sheep for grazing, tying them in selected grasslands.
Ideally, according to her age, she was fit to attend Senior 1 classes in secondary school, but she could not effectively read and write. After a year of homeschooling, she was enrolled in one of the primary schools, starting in Primary three. Her classmates were way younger than her, but everyone at home and the teachers at school rallied behind her. Necessities were availed, school dues were paid on time and she was given extra attention by teachers. Remember she was growing, adolescence was kicking in, and most of her classmates were between 8-10 years. With the coming of menstruation periods the following year, changes in her body innocently made her feel uncomfortable. I remember one evening, her mother and uncle came to visit her. I believe it all started on this day. The trio spent a lot of time together during the holiday and as a family, we loved the fact that they seemed happy. None of us knew the hidden agenda. Her relatives returned to the village, but she was never the same after that.
Then came the beginning of the third term, primary four class, she refused to go to school. The fourteen-year-old openly told my parents that she was not ready to go back to school. Of course, it was hard to believe. She gave her reason, ‘that her classmates were making fun of her age and maturity.’ My mother suggested that they change school, maybe try adult school, she refused and when one of her other cousins tried to convince her to join her at the vocational school, Justine expressly told her, she was no longer interested in going to school. This did not treat my parents well, but in the end, they called her mother and uncles, who took her back to the village, but the offer to cater for her school dues remained available as long as she was still interested. This dramatic return came with several revelations. We later learned, that her mother and uncles had arranged a marriage for her. One of the millet merchants on the village had already paid the dowry for her, the mother and uncles had already accepted the offer and so they did all they could to persuade her to quit school for marriage. The earlier holiday visit by her mother and uncle was to woo her to accept the marriage. Indeed, Justine went ahead and got married at the age of fifteen, to a man ten years older than her. The last time I saw her, she was pregnant for a different man, had three children from her first marriage and her current husband had just battered her and chased her from their matrimonial home. That was five years ago. None of her uncles welcomed her at that time, her mother did not want to hear anything about her, she came back to Jinja, and she was now twenty-four years old, with no shelter of her own, no education, no source of income, with three children to take care of and a pregnancy to nurture. Clearly, we can see the factors that stood in the way of Justine’s development, you will surely agree with me, the future would have been different.
Justine’s circumstances, if critically analyzed, one can see that, if it were not for poverty or if her parents carried out sustainable and productive agricultural practices in the village where they had several acres of land, she would have received a decent education, secondly her uncles wouldn’t have forced her into marriage and thirdly, the burden of taking care of her children as an income less single parent wouldn’t have surfaced. By denying her early childhood education, there was a lot of inequality at play, resultantly denying her exposure to primary health care information, vital to personal health and well-being. Under such circumstances, one has to deal with low self-esteem, deal with menstrual periods if one does not have the correct information on female body development. With such inequality that started at the family level, she could not access education at the right age, restricting her productivity to the domestic realm that trained her to get ready for marriage. As a result, she turned out to be less economically productive, but totally dependent. For me, all these experiences are still vivid and I strongly relate with every memory that runs through my head. It shows you how the short journey to child marriages is woven around systematic restrictions within families and societies. So, if child marriages are still thriving in our societies, the eight SDGs enumerated above will not be achieved, regardless of the time frame given. From another angle, one can opine that if most of these SDGs are achieved, it will be hard for child marriages to thrive, but the gist here is to end child marriages. It is easier to achieve all if we end child marriages first.
Prince Wako Foundation has not only looked at girls in primarily family settings, but we have also extended our cause to girls in refugee camps, starting with Kenya. With a strong belief that providing basic necessities for girls to attend school, relevant counsel and mentorship, a strong foundation for empowerment will be cemented to propel aided societies towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals. The steps taken have covered girl’s schools and single mothers, who have motivated us to remain committed to the cause. To us, it is not only an important belief but also a duty to empower the girl child, while advocating for their protection in all we do.