Kenya: Escaping forced marriage
08 April 2011

Women at the JRS protection centre "safe haven" in Kakuma refugee camp. Sarah found safety here after escaping forced marriage in Southern Sudan. (Armando Borja/JRS)
In July 2010, my brother came to Kakuma to confront my mother and me. He noticed I was pregnant and bought pills for me to abort the baby so he can take me back to Sudan.
Kakuma, 8 April 2011 – My name is Sarah and I am 24 years old. I have four children and I was born and raised in Southern Sudan.

In 1991, conflicts between Muslims and Christians forced my three brothers, my parents and me to flee. During our flight, my father and two brothers were murdered by soldiers. 

We walked for almost three months and had nothing or little to eat and no place to sleep until we reached Lokichoggio [north-west Kenya]. In 1992, we got registered as refugees and settled at Kakuma refugee camp.

My brother and I attended school together and we got all the help we needed from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). In 2001 I completed primary education and in 2002 I got married to a Sudanese man. My husband and I were blessed with two children.  

Family insecurity

In 2004 my sister-in-law’s son got into a fight because of a misunderstanding. While defending himself, he killed the Sudanese man he was fighting with. UNHCR was able to resettle him in Daadab [refugee camp] due to the insecurity and persecution he faced in Kakuma after the incident. 

Since the victim’s relatives were not able to locate him, they wrongly accused my husband of murder and he was jailed in Kakuma so that investigations could be carried out. 

My husband was released after a few weeks because there was no proof against him. The victim’s family in Sudan was not happy and in 2007 my brother-in-law was arrested and put in jail in Sudan. My husband had to travel to Sudan in 2007 to resolve the problem.

If someone is accused of murder in my culture, the issue can only be resolved by paying 50 cows if it’s a man and 30 cows if it’s a woman. My husband could not raise the 50 cows and was put in jail in place of his brother in July 2007. Until to date he is still being detained. 

I was pregnant with our third child. I received the news that he was in jail and it broke my heart. Together with my children, we moved back to live with my mother in Kakuma. My only surviving brother at the time had returned to live in Sudan.

Fleeing forced marriage

While my brother was in Sudan he fell in love with a married lady. In order for her to be divorced and him to be accepted into her family, her relatives asked him to give them KSh2.6 million (USD39,000). He did not have so much money and convinced an 85-year-old man to marry me in my absence and without my knowledge or consent. He was hoping to use my dowry to pay the one for his girl friend. The old man gave him 150 cows. 

In 2009, my brother returned to Kakuma claiming that my husband wanted to see me. I agreed and we travelled to Bor [Southern Sudan]. My brother took me to a house where, instead of my husband, an old man was waiting. “This is your new husband,” my brother told me. “Love and respect him.” I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. I felt so angry, but I had nowhere to go. I vowed that I would not spend the night there, and that night I escaped.

With no clothes and no money, I walked through the bush for three days, eating wild fruits, drinking contaminated water and sleeping on top of trees fearing that I would be harmed if I laid on the ground.  

I finally reached Juba and an army truck driver offered to give me lift out of goodwill. It was late January 2010. The truck stopped at Kaya [border between Sudan and Uganda] and I was asked to get off the truck as this was the furthest they could take me.  

I sat by the road, not knowing what to do or where to go. A passer-by seemed concerned and after talking to him he agreed to accommodate me for the night. While at his house I told him all my problems. 

He asked me to sleep with him in exchange for money. Having spent two nights, he gave me KSh6,000 (USD74).

I took a bus back to Juba and stayed at a friend’s house for three months. While staying in Juba my friends told me that my brother was looking for me. 

In April 2010 I travelled back to Kakuma. I was three months pregnant. In July 2010, my brother came to Kakuma to confront my mother and me. He noticed I was pregnant and bought pills for me to abort the baby so he can take me back to Sudan.  

Finding safety with JRS

I reported the matter to our community leader who referred me to the gender department of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). After two days, they called for a meeting with the group leader, my brother, my mother and I. 

My brother was upset and became violent. He began throwing stones at us together with some men he had hired to abduct me. I was scared. LWF then referred me to JRS Safe Haven [protection centre] together with my children. 

I often think about my painful experiences. Now my child is born. I did not plan for her. In addition I don’t know if my husband is alive or dead. 

At the JRS Safe Haven I received counselling services. My children are going to school and so am I. I am very happy here. I am safe and there are many other women here like me. 

*not her real name