- Facebook hosted an auction for a South Sudanese child bride on October 25
- The social networking site didn’t know about it until November 9
- The site immediately took the post down and banned the user who posted the auction, which Facebook classified as human trafficking
- By then, the 17-year-old girl had been married to the highest bidder for six days
- Five men reportedly participated, including high-ranking government officials
- The auction was reportedly posted by someone outside the girl’s family, but the family benefited, receiving 500 cows, three cars and $10,000 for the girl
- The marriage took place on November 3 in Eastern Lakes, South Sudan
- The issue of paying a dowry for a bride in South Sudan is complicated, with prices escalating as a cattle famine has hit the area, resulting in the rampant theft
- Despite varying opinions on the practice of paying a bride price of any amount, most, including the bride’s mother, agree the auction was not a good thing
An auction for a South Sudanese child bride was hosted on Facebook on October 25, unbeknownst to the social networking site for over two weeks.
The father who benefited from the sale secured 500 cows, three cars and $10,000 in exchange for his 17-year-old daughter’s hand in marriage, from the highest bidder out of five men, some of whom are high-ranking government officials, according to a child’s rights organization called Plan International.
Facebook found out about the post on November 9, took it down and permanently disabled the account that posted the auction, but the daughter had already been married by that time.
‘This barbaric use of technology is reminiscent of latter-day slave markets,’ George Otim, Country Director of Plan International South Sudan, said.
‘That a girl could be sold for marriage on the world’s biggest social networking site in this day and age is beyond belief.’
The issue of paying a dowry for a bride in South Sudan, which Facebook classified as human trafficking, is complicated, to say the least.
Western advocacy groups consistently call for an end to the practice altogether, while some young girls in the country have said prices have gotten too high, thus encouraging the sale of younger and younger girls, all while a cattle famine has made resources scarce for everyone involved, also encouraging sales of brides but also creating an environment for theft to thrive as young men hope pay a bride price.
The teenage girl in this case was married to the auction’s winner on November 3, in the country’s Eastern Lakes state. There’s no word on her feelings about the union.
Facebook hosted an auction for a South Sudanese child bride on October 25 and didn’t know about it or take the post down until November 9, which was six days after the 17-year-old was married to the highest bidder
According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 52 percent of young women in South Sudan are married before they turn 18 years old, as reported by GirlsNotBrides.org.
Before the age of 15, nine percent of girls in South Sudan are wed.
Facebook told CNN that it removed the post containing the auction for this child bride, who would fall among the 52 percent, as soon as the site became aware of its existence on November 9.
‘Any form of human trafficking — whether posts, pages, ads or groups is not allowed on Facebook. We removed the post and permanently disabled the account belonging to the person who posted this to Facebook,’ a company spokesperson said in a statement.
‘We’re always improving the methods we use to identify content that breaks our policies, including doubling our safety and security team to more than 30,000 and investing in technology.’
South Sudan is not the only place where dowries are paid for child brides.
The top countries with the highest rates of child marriage, based on the percentage of women between the ages of 20-24 years old who were first married before they were 18, include Niger (76 percent), Central African Republic (68 percent), Chad (67 percent), Bangladesh (59 percent) and Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and South Sudan all tied for fifth (52 percent), according to GirlsNotBrides.org.
Otim said that offering a bride price is part of the culture in South Sudan, but this instance ‘was taken to another level because of technology.’
The auction was reportedly posted by someone who was not a member of the family of the child bride, but the family benefited from the bidding war, according to Suzy Natana, a lawyer at the South Sudanese National Alliance for Women Lawyers (NAWL).
‘A few of our colleagues were able to get in touch with the mother (of the bride) and she was not happy about it,’ Natana said.
The final price agreed to as a result of the auction is the highest bride price that has been reported in the region, she said, adding that NAWL is opposed to introducing bidding into the bride price process because ‘it makes you more of a commodity instead of a human being.’
In the Unity state of South Sudan, one then-17-year-old girl told VOA News she was lucky not to be married, saying that girls as young as 13 in her area had been sold into marriage by their families in exchange for dozens of cattle.
Nyapar Gatyiel Puok’s recommendation was for the government to set a maximum amount for dowry prices, or at least a minimum age for marriage.
‘A girl should not be married before she is 20 years old, because if she reaches 20 years of age, she is able to have responsibility and to know how to do work at home. At 13, 14, 15, that causes stress and that’s not good,’ Puok said at the time, in 2013.
Some officials within Unity felt the high dowry prices were likely introduced from people outside the area, while contemplating instituting the state’s own local caps on bride prices.
Not every young girl in South Sudan is against dowries, like Nyamal William Bol, who was 15 when she explained her thoughts on the matter.
‘Dowries should not be eliminated because there are some girls who may cost a lot to achieve their studies in various colleges and universities, so the only way to pay back to her parents is to pay dowries when it comes to marriage,’ Bol said.
Rebecca Amok, who was 15 when she was told by her father in 2016 that she was to marry a 25-year-old man whom she had never met, told a different story to the Guardian in June of 2017.
Before I married I wanted to be a doctor. I want to be the leader of South Sudan,’ Amok said, while nursing her seven-month-old daughter, Yar, in her hut in Rumbek.
‘I was not happy about my wedding. I was in my room and crying because I didn’t want to marry him but my parents convinced me. They said, “Look at us – we don’t have cows. We want cows for our survival.”‘
Amok’s family received 15 cows in exchange for agreeing for their daughter to marry a man named Sabit.
Sabit’s family was lucky to have the cattle to pay such a price.
Jada Tombe, who was 27 years old when he talked with Development and Cooperating in June of 2016, said he considered himself lucky to be alive after participating in ‘cattle rustling’ (stealing cows) in South Sudan.
‘We risk our lives to raid other communities so we can pay bride prices,’ Tombe said.
Three of Tombe’s cousins have died over the past three years while trying to steal animals from neighboring villages, he said, adding:
‘Even if you don’t go on raids, other communities will attack you, and you may be killed defending your herd.’
It seems no matter where people stand on the issue of whether bride prices should be paid in South Sudan, most are in agreement that the child bride auction on Facebook was not a good thing.
The social networking site is being called upon by Equality Now, an organization focused on gender equality, to improve monitoring practices.
‘Violations against women in South Sudan are a continuing issue, but for Facebook to allow their platform to enhance these violations is a problem,’ Judy Gitau, Equality Now‘s regional coordinator for Africa, said.
‘They ought to put in place more human resources to monitor their platform to ensure that women’s rights, and indeed the rights of all people, are protected,’ Gitau said, adding that Facebook has a responsibility to uphold women’s rights.