ARUA. Ms Felicia Ray (not real names) is 18-year old South Sudanese refugee in Ofua III cluster in Rhino Camp Settlement who attempted to kill herself in January this year.

Being the only unmarried girl in the family of three girls and three boys, Ms Ray came under sustained abuse when she acquired a mobile phone.

Her mother and one of the brothers suspected the phone was bought by a boyfriend. They confiscated the phone, branded her a prostitute and yelled insults at her.

Her mother who sells petty merchandise at Luruja market would abuse her along the way as she returned home. Ray’s father died back in South Sudan at the beginning of the latest war.

“The incessant insults invariably created emotional stress and I thought it was better for me to die,” a teary Ms Ray recounts.

Mr Idi Amin, the secretary for security for Ofua III says negative cultural perceptions where girls are seen as potential source of wealth through bride price is to blame.

“We South Sudanese do not have the culture of encouraging education of girls. The people prefer that girls should marry early so that they can get some animals to solve their poverty and when a girl reaches 18 years while at home they see it as a bad thing,” he says.

Mr Cyprian Okwera, the officer in charge of Yoro base police station says they have registered four cases of attempted suicide among the South Sudanese refugees since January and one case of death by suicide.

All the victims are ladies between 18 and 33 years of age and the suicide attempts are triggered by domestic tension. Some of them try to hang themselves by rope and others drink poison extracts from dry cell batteries.

refugees receiving relief

The most recent case happened two weeks ago when Ms Jully Dabor (real names withheld) drank poisonous extracts from dry cell batteries.

Ms Dabor has already spent one year at Ofua VI cluster but her problem started three years ago when she was still in Torit, South Sudan.

At 19 years, she was raped by a boy with whom they were members in a church choir. And when she got pregnant because of the rape her family blamed the incident on her saying she followed the boy to their home due to her own lust.

Unfortunate for Ms Debor, her mother died of high blood pressure at Juba barracks during the 2013 clashes in the Capital city and there wasn’t any willing relative to help her.

Her clansmen accused her of living recklessly and conceiving outside marriage like her deceased mother who did not introduce her father to them.

After delivering a baby girl, Ms Debor decided to relocate to Uganda to live as a refugee. When the civil unrest in South Sudan spread to Torit it drove her disparaging relatives to join her in the refugee camp in Uganda.

They only embraced her for few days and restarted their abuse. When she found a boyfriend that only served to exacerbate the rift with relatives.

In January, Ms Debor underwent an operation in the abdomen to treat appendicitis and was barred from heavy works such as digging, that she only rely on the food rations from the relief agency, the World Food Programme.

The difficult economic situation combined with the tense atmosphere created by relatives was too much for her to bear that she thought it was better for her to be dead than stay alive.

“I told my daughter someone will take care of you go out of the kitchen. Then I drank the poison after which I took porridge to my boyfriend because I wanted to serve him one last time,” Ms Debor who is slowly getting over her stress recounted.

homes at Rhino camp

Mr Charles Akolo, the Ofua zone VI chairman says when Ms Debor was discharged from Luruja health facility after receiving antacid treatment, they were so scared of her mood that they decided to take her to Yoro police station in search of better care but the police sent her back home saying if she died at the cells, they would have trouble explaining it.

Attempted suicide is a criminal offence under Uganda’s penal laws but commandant Okwera says locking a distressed refugee behind bars for attempted suicide cannot be a solution to the daunting underlying problems.

Mrs Hawad Abdallah, a volunteer counselor trained by Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) International says it was a tough job counseling Ms Debor.

“This was the first radical case of its kind I handled. We have mostly been dealing with cases of gender based violence,” she says.

Mrs Abdallah is nonetheless happy that Debor has made a lot of progress in changing her attitude and improving her feeling towards the challenges facing her.

Ms Debor says she prays everyday to ask God to totally remove the idea of committing suicide from her mind.