JUBA, South Sudan — “I questioned myself, “If this happened to my daughter how would I react?” I hope that she has a better future and doesn’t suffer how I have.” Lasuba chimed in. Over the radio, you hear Fadul say, “That boy is young, and my daughter is young too, how can they get married at that age? Do you know the dangers associated with marrying at a younger age?” We are listening to a radio drama about child marriage and that is the sound of positive parenting from a father that just found out his teenage daughter has an unplanned pregnancy. Fadul’s character is narrated by Lasuba Memo – who happens to be a father himself of a 12-year-old girl. “I took this role immediately because I fell in love with this character who made me reflect on my childhood and what I want for my daughter,” he said with a smile.
Lasuba Memo, now 36 years old and married with 3 children, is not new to activism or creating awareness around children’s rights. He’s an actor and a political journalist currently reporting for Voice of America (VOA), producing work with SAMA radio station in Juba, and has a history of working for USAID and Eye Radio. These new radio dramas are produced and broadcast by Amalna, a South Sudanese cultural organization empowering youth, in partnership with UNICEF.
This new radio drama sheds a ‘positive’ light on the anger of the father. His anger is not focused on the cultural or societal views of the unplanned pregnancy, but the future of his daughter and her ability to obtain self-fulfillment. This involves making career choices, understanding herself, and marrying who she wants to when she decides she is ready. He counts through the numerous harmful effects early marriage has on a child. There is quite a big ‘lesson’ we learn over the two radio episodes we hear Fadul in. Lasuba explains that the father “had hoped his daughter would continue with school. He does not want his daughter to replicate the history of poverty that his family has lived through. He feels ‘betrayed’ after investing so much in her to have a good future (through education) and then her actions could take that away from her.”
To create radio dramas that address real situations that real children are facing, focus group discussions were organized in different regions of South Sudan, hosting participants of various ages and ethnic groups to gather thoughts and experiences on child marriage and the harsh consequences to a girl’s wellbeing and future. Outcomes prove that children married before they are an adult are more likely to lack education, have psychosomatic problems, suffer domestic violence, or die during childbirth. These dramas are not only for girls, young boys are also married off before adulthood, taking their childhood away.
UNICEFSouthSudan/Hill Nadia Acholi has lend her voice to Sisily in the radio drama
In this radio episode with Fadul, the pregnant girl has a complicated relationship with her mom, Sisily, who is played by Nadia Acholi. Nadia is a journalist for humanitarian issues and a popular radio presenter who’s work includes SAMA radio and Eye Radio. “I don’t identify with this mom; she is not a friend with her child. Moms need to be close to their children. In South Sudan, moms might be stricter when they would benefit to be close to their children. If the mom was a friend to her daughter, she could advise her properly,” Nadia tells us. The mom doesn’t want her daughter to disturb her with any questions and says to talk to her father about needing pads when she starts her monthly cycle. The mother pushes her daughter away who is then tempted by a friend to get the money she needs from a man in exchange for physical pleasure. The episode gives parents situations to reflect on as well.
UNICEF estimates that more than half of all South Sudanese girls are married or in a culturally recognized union before turning 18 years old and one out of three girls are pregnant before they are 15 years old. This problem relates to a traditional practice that views a girl as ready for childbirth once she starts her period.
Actually, childbirth can kill a young girl because the female body is not always physically capable to give birth at such an age. Conflict in the country has made women and girls more vulnerable to different forms of violence and abuse as social networks and protection mechanisms have been largely disrupted. On top of that, repercussions of COVID-19 keeping children out of school has resulted in more early pregnancies than usual. This all significantly contributes to gender inequality and has a negative long-term effect on national development. Lasuba is insightful, “Our conscious should lead us to not take advantage of young girls.”
Nadia is a community champion for ending child marriage and says, “I talk to my nieces, my sisters, my friends, and teach them about using a condom and that they have options in this situation. I try my best to consult others and give them friendly advice. At school, they say if you go with a guy it is bad, but they do not teach about other things like how to avoid a pregnancy.” Nadia speaks out against child marriage because of personal experiences. “My cousin was 16 years old and got pregnant by some old man with three wives already. I talked to her father and said that she needs to keep her education, do not make her marry this guy. But she couldn’t stop it. Women don’t have a right to speak for themselves here.” This notion of women not having a choice runs deep in the culture.
Women don’t have a right to speak for themselves here – Nadia Acholi
Should parents be happier if they married their young daughter off to get the dowry or if their educated daughter is able to have a job that allows her to support them? This perspective can set aside the economic woes when parents think about possibilities that are different from the mistakes of the past. The cycle of poverty can fade away through awareness and generations of educated girls.
Nadia is hopeful for South Sudan’s future and says that “There is visual progress of girls becoming stronger and more educated – it is seen around me. Many girls are now stepping up for each other when they see a guy treating a girl badly.” “I feel people hear these stories and get inspired by the drama. They regret the past and realize the significance of education,” Lasuba adds. “We can use experiences and mistakes from the past. We can tie this to the country learning from its past practices to change for the better.”
Back when Lasuba said, “I hope that [my daughter] has a better future and doesn’t suffer how I have,” he was thinking of his childhood and how hard he worked cutting firewood just to be able to pay school fees. On top of that, the extreme violence between various actors in the country made schooling and studying nearly impossible. He wants his daughter and all the other daughters out there to have an opportunity for the thing he fought for the most – an education.
The first five pilot episodes of the radio dramas are being broadcasted in English and Arabic and can be heard on 35 radio stations. Eye Radio (Juba), City 88.4 FM (Juba), Radio One 87.9 FM (Juba), SSBC Radio 105.0 FM (Juba), Spirit 99.9 FM (Yei), Easter 94.0 FM (Yei), Rumbek 98.0 FM (Rumbek), Good News Radio 89.0 FM (Rumbek), Yirol Community Radio 88.8 FM (Yirol), Radio Saalam 99.1 FM (Malakal), Naath FM (Maban), Nile FM (Malakal), Jamjang 89.4 FM (Jamjang), Voice of Love (Malakal), Anisa 92.0 FM (Yambio), Yambio 90.0 FM (Yambio), Maridi 88.9 FM (Maridi), Radio Wau (Wau), Centenary FM (Tumbora), Voice Of Hope 98.65 (Wau), Kondial 97.2 FM (Bentiu), Radio Emmanuel 89.0 FM (Torit), Voice of EE 97.5 FM (Torit), Singaita 88.0 FM (Kapoeta), Akol Yam 99.9 FM (Aweil), Weerbei Radio (Wanyjok), Nhomlau Radio 88.0 FM (Aweil East), Radio Jonglei 95.9 FM (Bor), Voice of Freedom (Magwi), Pibor Community Radio (Pibor), Radio Peace and Reconciliation 98.4 FM (Bor), Radio Don Bosco 91.0 FM (Tonj), Mayardit 90.7 FM (Turalei), Radio Tamazuj Shortwave (Bentiu), Kuajok FM (Kuajok).