Cows for child brides: ‘War & climate change’ raise rates of child marriage in East Africa

A dramatic rise in child marriages in East Africa is due to conflict and climate change, charities working in the region say, with child brides being traded for cows and goats in order for families to survive.

The majority of parents in poverty-stricken South Sudan are looking to reduce the number of mouths they have to feed, by marrying their girls off in exchange for livestock, the charity CARE International told Reuters.

“When there is a girl within the family ready to get married, people will come and present the number of cows,” said Dorcas Acen, a gender protection expert at CARE. “Basically it’s just bidding – whoever bids with the highest number of cows will take the girl.”

Because trust in the value of South Sudanese currency has plummeted due to an ongoing civil war, a girl could be worth up to 300 cows, Acen said.

Meanwhile, severe drought has diminished livestock numbers in Kenya to such a degree that daughters are being exchanged for goats, according to Millicent Ondigo of the charity Amref Health Africa.

Ondigo aims to convince parents to keep their daughters in school rather than ‘cashing in’ on the offer of goats.

“[We told parents] when she is done with schooling, she will get a job and she will be able to buy you more than four goats,” she said.

The activist group Girls Not Brides estimates that more than 650 million women alive today were married as children. South Sudan shares the fifth place in the world rankings for child marriages, with 52 percent of girls married before the age of 18, and nine percent of girls married before the age of 15, according to UNICEF.

In Kenya, around 23 percent of girls are married before the age of 18, with rates varying across regions. The northeastern and coastal regions have the highest rates of child marriage, while central Kenya and the capital Nairobi have the lowest.

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