To Africans polygamy remains nothing strange. Men are allowed to marry more than one wife. Polygamy has since declined in the past but still remains common in many African countries, that according to the (Demographic and Health Survey, 2013).
In South Sudan the practice still exists. It is seen as an acceptable form of marriage. However, we must admit that polygamy has its negative aspects. Theories have often linked polygamy to poverty.
Despite the conflict in the country, and economic hardship which continue to plague South Sudan, many men still prefer to marry multiple women. As a result many women and children find themselves hungry and unable to support themselves.
Lual, not his real name is a senior two student in Juba. He stressed that living in a polygamous family has made him and his siblings exposed to a lot of challenges at an early stage.
Lual’s father has married three wives and have 11 children. Often the children go to bed hungry because their father is unable to feed all of them.
“My father is not employed. He does casual jobs sometimes but there are times when he cannot even find that casual job. What is affecting us mostly as children is access to education. Some of us are at school and others are not at school. Those three who are at school are the elder ones and the younger ones are not studying” Lual stressed.
Lual’s father is the sole bread winner. His wives do not work nor do any kind of business to support the family. They all depend on their husband.
“We are at a point where suffering is a normal thing for us. We may eat today and come tomorrow we have nothing to eat. So we sleep hungry. However, it is okay for us the older siblings but the young ones are now starving,’ said Lual.
16-year-old Pricilla Adior a senior pupil attending school in Juba says men who father many children are often unable to support them.
“A man married to many wives cannot manage to provide the basic needs for his big family. I’ll give an example, a man maybe receiving 5000 SSP as his salary that cannot cover basic needs like food, shelter and clothing. How is he going to be able to cater for everyone with his little money?”
It is more difficult to prevent, control and even cure sexually transmitted diseases in polygamous families. Having multiple partners increases the risk of encountering STIs, and exposure of one partner can mean exposure of others down the line.
Pricilla Adior says that most of the times it is the children who suffer when the parents get sick.
For his part, Abraham Mawut Mabior, a pharmacist based in Jebel Market, says a man who wants to marry many wives must have enough money to sustain his large family.
“Here in town before getting married to many wives, the first things you need to do is have a good budget for them. The budget which will sustain your children and wives because this young kids needs proper care. Proper care is providing them access to education, food, taking care of them like taking them to the hospital when they are sick. But when you have many wives and you don’t have a budget for them that’s why most children nowadays are on streets because of no responsibility being taken by their parents” Mawut stressed.
Impact of Polygamy on women
Polygamy is recognized under the South Sudan customary laws and also in the current transitional constitution.
Even so, activists are calling on the government to make polygamous marriages illegal.
According to the Acting Director of the National Alliance of Women Lawyers, Adhieu Malual Kuir, polygamy has brought nothing but misery to many families in the country.
“If our government really wanted to liberate this country from poverty, one of the best thing it should do is to prohibit polygamy by making it a crime. Whoever is involved in polygamous marriages commits a crime. At least this can reduce the number of suffering and we are all aware of it that polygamy has many negative impacts than advantages to our societies. If they could come up with a law that prohibits it, that will be something good.”
She says the negative effects of polygamy are not only financial. They can also affect women’s’ mental, emotional and physical health.
“They will struggle over the small resources and it affect their health. If a women keeps giving birth and does not have proper care in terms of feeding or in terms of hygiene of course she will suffer psychologically, she will not be stable because, she will always have that mind and heart that other wives are being favored.” She added.
She reveals that the practice has resulted in an increase in the number of children who live on the streets.
“Because these children are idle, they don’t go to school and they don’t have enough food in the house, they resort to living in the streets. I have seen a number of kids all the time like the other day I got a kid lying on the ground and in a terrible condition and he said his chest was paining and I asked whether he was an orphan but he said his house is in Gumbo-Shirikat but what was a 9-year-old doing on the street yet he is supposed to be at school but not lying on ground”.
The African Charter Protocol yet to be enacted:
She called on the government to implement laws to protect the rights of children and women.
Last year, the Mind and Soul Foundation, which works with a local charity focused on helping street children, estimated that more than 3000 children were living in the streets of Juba.
Adhieu says one way of doing that is for the government to ratify the African Charter Protocol on Human Rights and the Rights of Women – commonly known as the “Maputo Protocol”.
The charter guarantees comprehensive rights to women, including the right to take part in the political process and enjoy protection against the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practice.
Last year, the South Sudan’s Foreign Affairs Director of International Organizations in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Amb. Agnes Oswaha, said it’s just a matter of time before President Salva Kiir Mayardiit enacts the Maputo protocol aimed at protecting the rights of women.
Ambassador Oswaha called for all South Sudanese to be patient and keep hope alive as women justice groups called for an urgent signing of the law which they hoped would limit the practice of polygamy and set a marriageable age.
“The president would have signed the protocol but he has been dealing with peace issues. His focus has been on Addis Ababa and also within Sudan too,” she said, adding that President Kiir is a champion on women’s rights and signing is priority for him”, she told Eye Radio in 2018. But since then, nothing has changed.
The Charter is yet to be ratified, leaving many women and children without any form of protection or recourse.
Women lawmakers:Polygamy un
The former Chairperson of South Sudan’s Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, Dusman Joyce – says polygamy has led to an increase in early-child marriage countrywide.
The MP called on civil society organizations and other community based organizations to sensitize communities on the negative impacts of polygamy on the lives of children and women.
But this change in mindset will take time. Last month, authorities in Tonj state arrested a pastor and closed down two Seven Day Adventist churches in the Counties of Thiet and Tonj North claiming that the churches were preaching against the practice of cultural norms and traditions, especially polygamy.
According to the United Nations, which opposes the practice, polygamy was legal or generally accepted in 33 countries, 25 of them in Africa, as of 2009.
Polygamy shackles women and often worsens the risk of disease and poverty.
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