You’re not worth sending to school. You’re asking to be catcalled by simply being out in public. Your worth is measured by the man you marry or the son you bear.
These are some of the lies that girls across the world are told every day. Millions of girls are under the impression that they aren’t of any value at all, simply because of their gender.
Monica, a girl from South Sudan, was told the value of her future is worth a trade for cows. Livestock is often used as dowry payments, something that Monica discovered when her uncle demanded she be sold into marriage to pay back the debt of cows used to buy her mother, 15 years earlier.
“When I was 15, I had a very big problem — there was a man who wanted to marry me,” she says. “This man was our neighbor from Rumbek. He already had two wives but came to Shabelte to speak to my father and uncle.”
Initially, Monica’s father refused to let the man take her. But when Monica’s parents were married 15 years earlier, it was her uncle who paid for Monica’s mother’s dowry by giving away cattle. So, her uncle told her father that he needed to pay back his debt — by selling Monica into marriage.
And then, things got even worse for Monica. Another man came asking to have her as his wife. Her father wanted to give her to the first man, but her uncle wanted to give her to the second man. Because he had better cows.
Nobody was listening to what Monica wanted: to keep going to school. To remain a child.
“I was very upset,” she says. “Neither my father or my mother was standing by me. They just wanted me to be married.”
But when Monica’s father went to her school to pull her out so she could be married, the head teacher, Sister Orla, refused. She said the only way she would allow for Monica to drop out would be if the Minister of Education sent a letter of permission.
Because Sister Orla took a stand against Monica’s early marriage, her father and family agreed not to force her to become a child bride. Her uncle, however, continued to threaten that he would come and take her by force and marry her off anyway.
“I feel safest at school because nobody can get me there,” Monica says. “I want to continue with my studies, so I hope that my father will not give up and carry on supporting my education.”
In South Sudan, and many places around the world, child marriage is forcing girls to abandon their dreams. Girls have to live a lie that tells them they are not human beings destined to thrive, rather objects to be bought, sold and do whatever they must to just survive.
Plan International is working in South Sudan to keep girls in school and ensure their families are financially supported. Girl students like Monica receive food rations to share with their families as an incentive to parents to keep their daughters in school, rather them force them into marriage.
But so many more girls in South Sudan and across the world need your financial support immediately. Because every minute, 23 girls under the age of 18 are married. And behind each statistic is the story of a real girl like Monica.
The time is now to help girls see that not only do they matter, but that their potential is exactly what is going to bring us into a better world.