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Rebuilding a life after rape or forced marriage

17.05.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
For many young people around the world, getting married is an important stage in their lives. They dream about meeting the right person, falling in love and having the perfect wedding and living a happy ever after with their partner. They even daydream about the kind of party they would like to have, the kind of wedding dress they will wear, how their dream spouse should look like and the exact age and time they would like to get married. Unfortunately for many young people around the world; especially women, the wish of having their dream wedding is never granted, as many of them are forced to marry before they are ripe for marriage or forced to marry someone they do not like or want.

Force marriage is a type of marriage where one or both spouses do not give their full and free consent to the union regardless of their age. The most common form of forced marriage around the world is child marriage. In Africa, many of those who fall prey to forced marriages are young girls; forced to marry before the age of 18, and 38% of these forced marriages happen in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNICEF, 650 million women alive today were married before the age of 18, and 12 million girls under the age of 18 marry each year.

Rape can be defined as unlawful sexual intercourse with or without the use of force and against the wish of the person involved; male or female. Rape and other forms of sexual assault is a serious problem in many parts of Africa, especially in places plagued by violence and war.

Forced marriages and rape are two unfortunate situations that are inextricably linked. This is because since the marriage is forced, sexual intercourse between the spouses will always be a form of rape or another form of sexual assault because one partner will always be forced to indulge in the act because of their unwillingness to be part of the union.

Common causes of rape and forced marriages

Some parents force their children into marriages because of various reasons ranging from selfish personal interests to the demands of culture and religion. Some of the most prominent reasons include;

Poverty

Poverty is the primary cause of many forced marriages around the world. Many parents and families force their children into marriages as a form of compensation or payment for a debt or a favour granted to the family.

Protecting the family name

When a girl from a prominent family gets pregnant out of wedlock, the family forces her into marriage with the author of the pregnancy, with or without the consent of the man or woman just to protect the family name and pride. This is the most common form of marriage that men are forced into, and they usually feel trapped, especially in the case where they had no intention of marrying the girl.

Strengthening family links

This is a form of marriage where two families force their children to marry so as to strengthen or maintain family links and business ties. In these cases, most of those involved in such marriages are betrothed at very tender ages or even before birth, and they grow up to meet a spouse and are forced to marry as soon as they hit puberty.

Violence and conflict

Women and men living in areas where there is any form of conflict or war are more prone to some form of sexual assault and forced marriage. Some of these victims are abducted by terrorists and other armed groups to work as sex slave or forced into marriages. This is very common in South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and Northern Nigeria.

Aiding immigration

This is very common among migrants who are force to marry in order to escape repatriation as a result of lack of documents. This is a very common phenomenon among young African immigrants who are stuck between living a better life Europe and America and going back to their struggles in Africa. Rich old men and women take advantage of these young people; who have no choice than to marry in order to acquire visas.

Consequences of rape and forced marriages

Forced marriages lead to unending sexual violation, which is a serious form of human rights violation. People forced into marriages lose the right to freedom and education.

Many of these young girls get trapped in a cycle of domestic violence which inflicts long lasting physical, emotional and psychological damages.

Rape and forced marriages exposes victims to illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and other STIs. Girls who marry early are at risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.

Most victims of rape and forced marriages suffer from low self-esteem and other forms of trauma which pushes many to commit suicide.

How to rise above rape and forced marriage  

Sexual violation is one dehumanizing act that is very difficult to overcome. Many people who have experienced these violations are vulnerable and find it difficult to fit themselves into the society. The most difficult part is taking the decision to leave a forced marriage or deciding to live a normal life after being raped. The latter is even more difficult as victims of rape are usually blamed for exposing themselves to the crime. The first step to healing is accepting that they have a problem and seek help.

It is commonly said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and the first step to healing from a forced marriage is leaving the marriage. This is easier said than done, since most people forced into marriages are dependent on their spouses for livelihood, making it difficult to survive on their own, and it is even more difficult to leave when children are involved.

Nevertheless, it is possible to get help from NGOs and Governmental Organisations. Some of these organisations include: Girls Not Brides, Save the Children, Womankind, PATCH and Hope Foundation among others. These organisations provide education, which is a great start at empowering women so they can fend for themselves and be less dependent on their husbands. Women like Musu Bakoto Sawo from Zambia, Betty Asha from South Sudan and Soledad O’Brien from America are forced marriage and sexual abuse survivors who serve as examples and models for young girls caught up in forced marriages.

Women and men who have been sexually abused feel guilty and responsible for the harm that was done to them. To be able to overcome such trauma, victims of forced marriages and sexual assault need to accept that they are not to blame for their misfortunes, and also seek help. Though forced marriages are banned in many countries around the world, government authorities need to set up institutions that monitor and ensure that these laws and respected and detractors are punished accordingly. This will go a long way to end forced marriages and sexual abuse, and give young girls and boys the power to stand up and fight for their rights.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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