School Girls Forced Into Marriage

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By Chrispin Inambao

RUNDU

Some parents in the Rundu Rural West Constituency regard forced marriages of their children as a quick way out of poverty and see education as a waste of time as they would rather see their offspring look after livestock than be in a classroom.

Forced marriages by parents who want to have a constant monthly supply of corn meal from their sons-in-law seems a norm, according to Elizabeth Hilger who cares for 153 orphans and poor children at the Theresia Orphans and Vulnerable Children Foundation.

Hilger, who despite her young age has undertaken to look after OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) at a foundation that serves as a memory to her late mother, says of late there has been an increase in under-aged school-going children whose midriffs are heavy with unborn babies.

Some of the victims succumbed to pressure from their peers who claim: “If you have a boyfriend he will give you material support and give you everything that you need.”

Fifteen-year-old *Charity Karupu an expectant mother impregnated by a close male relative was recently expelled from school at Mavanze Primary after it was discovered she was six-months pregnant. Karupu is a good representative example of children falling pregnant at Mavanze some 12 kilometres west of Rundu, after they had unprotected sex.

Two years ago, to be exact, she experienced her first pregnancy at the tender age of thirteen and she had to drop out of school but her baby died shortly after birth.

And when Elizabeth Hilger heard about her heart-rending tale, she pleaded with the head-teacher at Mavanze Primary to give the girl-child a second chance and the sympathetic principal heeded the impassioned appeal by re-admitting the girl back to school.

But this year Karupu’s cousin professed his undying love and that he would be buying for her products such as Vaseline, lotion and other cosmetics. She got hooked onto him again.

The cousin started having an incestuous affair with the minor and after he promised to marry her they started having sex initially with a condom, but later they had unprotected sex and this led to her pregnancy that resulted in her expulsion from school.

Her family’s hope that one day she may have a better education than they had have been dashed, and she is not only back to square one but the relative has not fulfilled his marriage promise.

It appears her dream of one day becoming a nurse will remain a fantasy and her seven siblings will remain trapped in abject poverty at Mavanze where life is a daily struggle.

“Her mother was very happy when I took her and supported her with her education, food and clothes. But the mother is very devastated after she discovered that her daughter was pregnant again. Her boyfriend left school a long time ago and just sits at home doing nothing,” explained Hilger.

There is also the story of sixteen-year-old *Judith Kasara who recently dropped out of grade-eight after she was made pregnant by a 16-year-old school-leaver.

This girl was reportedly a virgin when she first had sex with the idler.

The boy who made her pregnant is an orphan. Judith Kasara has an elder sister who failed Grade 10 and a brother who also failed the same grade. She also has a younger brother currently in Grade 9 and a younger sister who is in Grade 2. Her story is made sadder by the fact that a single parent has been raising them after their father passed away.

She was also her family’s hope out of poverty possibly after she furthered her education and landed a job at Rundu or at any of the towns in Namibia.

Like Karupu, she also got hooked in a ruinous love relation after her boyfriend made empty promises to buy her bathing soap, washing powder and promised to marry her.

Initially, they used condoms but after the boy’s stock ran out, they had unprotected sex and dashed her hopes for a better future after she fell pregnant.

Hilger says she also looks after 49 girls from poor families and among the girls are those that had to run to her shelter after their parents tried to marry them off to strangers.

In one of the instances, a stranger came to one homestead at Mavanze and was accommodated by one peasant family. After a day or so, he told his hosts he was looking for a wife and his hosts said that should not be a problem because they have many girls in their homestead from which the stranger could make his choice. One of the school-going girls targeted for forced marriage had to flee from her parents and is cared for by Hilger.

These poverty-stricken parents marry off their girl children so that their daughters will have a better life but many of them end up becoming sex slaves and ‘baby-bearing machines’.

And the other motive for these forced marriages is that the parents would have a son-in-law who would give them a constant supply of maize, salt, sugar and loose change.

At Mavanze, many of the parents who themselves did not go far with their education see little value in their children having to receive education. They would rather see them looking after their goats or cattle that to them mean a lot than having educated children.

“If their children are absent from school it is not a big deal, but it is a big deal if their children fail to look after their cattle, and they punish them severely,” said Hilger, who has been going around telling girls to refuse being married off by ignorant parents.

Wifebashing is also very common at Mavanze where most men resort to strong-arm tactics apparently to instill discipline in wives seen as wayward and indisciplined.

– The names preceded by the symbol * indicate the names used are not the girls’ real names to protect their identities as they are still minors.

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