Southern Sudan - Forced Marriage - Journalist's Personal Story

Photo: Internews

Christine Akuol, who is being trained by Internews to be a community radio journalist, is interested in reporting on women's issues and encouraging girls to stay in school.

(March 8, 2010) “As a journalist I know that part of my job is to empower the community,” says Christine Akuol, a reporter at Mayardit FM in Turalei, southern Sudan. Akuol is part of a five-member team that has been trained by Internews to be community radio station reporters.

Akuol has a personal interest in covering issues of importance for women and girls, because she was forced into marriage at the age of 16.

In 2006, Akuol was abducted by five men, locked in a room overnight and then informed that she was to be the wife of one of the men. Though her father was angered by the way she was taken, within a week he had arranged for the man to pay a bride price and forced his daughter to leave school and become a housewife.

“I was completely shattered; my life had come to a stop. My father had betrayed me by allowing me to get married to this man. I was 16 and not ready for marriage at all, I had dreams of studying and becoming a pilot, but that wasn’t to be. I cried everyday and felt very bitter every time I saw other children going to school. Sometimes I would wear my uniform and just imagine that I was going to school. It was the worst time of my life.”

Nine months later, Akuol’s husband had failed to provide the agreed-upon dowry for his bride, so Akuol’s father appealed in court and decided to bring his daughter – now pregnant and unable to return to school – back home.

This year, the community’s new radio station gave Akuol, still hungry to learn and use her education, an opportunity.

“After my experience I wanted to try to change a few things in my community. I got what I would call a second chance; I never ever dreamt of being a journalist after becoming a housewife but here I am. I heard that Internews was recruiting reporters for a radio station in Turalei and I decided to apply,” says Akuol.

Mayardit FM went on air in February and Akuol has already recorded several half-hour programs that deal with women’s issues.

“My best so far is one that I did on forced marriage. I had to do a program on that since it had happened to me.”

In her program Akuol spoke to three women who were married against their will at ages 13, 14 and 15. One woman spoke of how she almost died while delivering her first child a year after marriage, and now, at the age of 20, has four children.

“One of the things I want to do is to tell our parents that forcing us into marriage is not good for us,” says Akuol. “Dinka girls, just like boys, have a right to education. As a girl I should also be given the chance to plan my life and decide what I want to be in future and to also marry a man that I love and not one that is forced on me. I just looked around at myself and my friends who were married off early and decided I could at least try to help bring an end to this culture.”

Christine and her four male colleagues working at the Turalei station have received five months of intensive journalism training as well as continuous mentoring from the Internews program in Southern Sudan.

The station is the fifth to be opened by Internews in South Sudan and covers Warrap State, part of Gogrial East State and Abyei, one of the hotly contested areas between the governments of the South and Northern Sudan due to its oil resources.

“I would have loved to be a pilot but I am a journalist now,” Akuol says with a beaming smile. “I am a different person now and I know the value of education, which is why through my programs I would like to encourage girls to go to school. The most important thing is for women to embrace education.”

Internews’ project, “Radio for Peace, Democracy and Development in South Sudan,” began in 2006 and is funded by the US Agency for International Development.