In Amuuonyocao village, we caught up with Sarah Acao. We bumped into her while she was washing utensils in the compound, as her mother, Janet Okello, winnowed grains. We could see, through her body language, that Sarah had mixed feelings regarding whether to receive us or not. However, she eventually entered one of the small huts in the compound to get us stools to sit on. Sarah’s motherwas, on the other hand, very excited to host us. She immediately laid a mat on the ground and sat next to us to listen to the message we had brought to her homestead.
‘I know ACFODE,’ she exclaimed while pointing to the ACFODE label on the vehicle, ‘You have done great work in our community.’ After brief introductions, Janet began to narrate her daughter Sarah’s story involving how she was forced into marriage at a very early age.
‘My husband has twowives,’ she started. ‘However, he only supports the other woman and not me. Recently, he refused to continue facilitating my fourchildren at school. In July 2015, he forced my eldest daughter, Sarah Acao, who is also my firstborn, to get married. Sarah is only 15 years old and by the time she was married off, she had dropped out of school in P5. As a mother, I did not have peace knowing that my 15-year-old daughter was married to a man thrice her age. One day, I heard my neighbour talking about a youth leader in our parish, who is also a male role model trained by ACFODE to promote gender equality and prevent violence against women and girls. I requested my neighbour to introduce me to the youth leader as I was desperately looking for an influential, approachable and understanding person to help me rescue my daughter from the forced marriage. My neighbour introduced me to OtimTomis, a youth leader of Youth at Work Group. Tomis visited me at my home and I narrated to him the whole story about how my daughter had been forcefully married off by my husband.’
Tomis proceeded to sensitise Jane with regard to early or forced marriage. He observed that early or forced marriagewas a criminal offence punishable in the courts of law. He then agreed with Janet that the first step was to rescue Sarah from the marriage. Tomisorganiseda team of other male role models who, together with the LC1 chairperson of Amuuonyocao village, approached the man Sarah had been married off to.
The man immediately released Sarah, for fear of being arrested or charged. Tomis is now in the process of sensitisingSarah’s father to the importance of returning Sarah and her siblings to school. Tomis warned the father against marrying her off again at a tender age, lest he be prosecuted.
Sarah refused to open up to us about the experiences she went through in the marriage as she is still affected emotionally.