17-year-old Ms Topista Asianzu is a senior three student of Ulepi secondary school in Ulepi sub-county, Arua district (but that will change to the new Okollo district from July 2019).
Ordinarily one would see Asianzu on the normal path of education but hailing from the Ulepi community and the greater Madi Okollo area presents her with a unique challenge to succeed as a girl.
“I have lived mostly with my grandmother, she started telling me about my growth stages when I was very young and how I should react to them, she disciplined me and begged me to stand firm in future”, Asianzu says of her grandmother.
Her village is just a stone’s throw away from the trading centre and narrates that most of the girls in the area are married off early;
“I had a friend who so much wanted to be in school, but when she approached her father for school fees, he showed her an axe that she should go and cut trees to burn charcoal, she was confused on what to do next”, Asianzu narrates of her friend’s ordeal.
She says her friend came for advice and suggested she gets married, “I advised her and warned her she being young would not manage marriage but she insisted since the parents were not willing to support her education any more, now she has a child but can’t even support herself”, she further states.
Asianzu narrates that her friend eventually divorced her young husband and is faced with a dark future and always breaks down crying whenever they meet recalling how she was given good advice.
She says that such is the unsupportive environment provided by the parents in Ulepi and most parts of the Madi Okollo area, girls are often married off at a young age.
Perhaps lucky for Asianzu is the exceptional support provided by her father, despite being away from home most of the time because he works in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district.
“One time my uncle in our village started disturbing me that I was old enough yet I don’t want to get married, I called my father on phone and he came home very annoyed, he told my uncle to leave me alone because I was not eating from his home, at least since then, he stopped disturbing me” she says.
However, to support her father’s efforts from the meagre salary of a security guard, Asianzu practices agriculture during her holidays.
She has some goats that are sold to get some of her basic needs besides growing sim sim that is a major cash crop in the area.
To further improve her personal social life, Asianzu decided to enroll for a Sunday school teachers training that was undertaken by the diocese of Madi and West Nile.
Through the training, Asianzu says she is now able to talk to the girls directly and caution them on their social life.
She appeals to parents to institute tough disciplinary measures in their homes to curb the rampant and uncontrolled movement of children for night discos and the nearby Ulepi market.
Other people have their say on early marriage in the area
Mr Aloysious Rubanga, LC I Ulepi trading center, Lawara Parish
In our village, Tuesdays and Fridays are market days so full and accessed by young girls and boys, many of them don’t go to school on these two days.
In Madi here, we try as much to teach children but they don’t want to go to school, now Madi has been given a district and yet the kids get married at a very young age, it’s a painful experience.
To help the situation, the church and the government need to work hand in hand, people don’t want to listen if it’s a government program.
As LC ‘s we cannot help the situation alone, if the kid cannot respect the parent, how can they respect the authorities in government.
Abiyo Samuel, Male adult from Kati parish
When girls reach adolescence, they do not listen to their parents, even if you tell them, they jump through the window and they go for disco dances.
But really my appeal would be to promote education; it is the best gift you can leave to the children when you die.
So for me I blame the parents, you cannot claim that your child has defeated you, sometimes the boy can only buy a sachet of Waragi for the girl’s parent and that’s all it takes to marry the girl; sometimes just one goat and that is it.
Rev Deacon Ronald Alioni, Parish priest Ulepi Anglican parish
While growing up, we did not go for disco dances, you didn’t drink, smoke or eat things like mirungi, it helped people to grow with good morals to become good citizens.
But now due to drug abuse, even 13 years olds get pregnant and are married off.
The church has been doing a lot in funerals, and every other church gathering to sensitize the people. As a priest, I even go sensitizing children in schools when I take Holy Communion and speak to them with all the energy because they are tomorrow’s church.
But we should never get tired of teaching the children, kids should be sent to school, but above all everyone should know the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and savior.
Ven. Canon Tera Olea, Arcdeacon Uyibu archdeaconry
First of all, parents need to know God, if the parents can’t go to Church, how can children be made to love God and obey His commandments?
As the church, we have a lot of work to do even if we can’t stop early marriages completely, we can reduce the rate.
The government should intervene because there is now too much laziness in the area, you have people eating drinking etc., and yet they sit at the roadside all day, where do they get the money from?