In Amudat, every year, local authorities rescue around 80 school-age children, aged 12 to 18, from being forced into marriages with wealthy individuals by their parents. This surge in forced marriages is primarily linked to gender-based violence and poverty, compounded by low levels of education in the district.
Alfred Logwe, the Principal Assistant Secretary at Amudat District, explained that many girls are coerced into marriage and later decide to escape, seeking help from the police or Gender-Based Violence (GBV) stop centers. He attributed this problem to parents who themselves never received an education, lack of awareness, and the insufficient number of schools in the district.
Furthermore, some parents in Amudat do not value education, while others cannot afford to send their daughters to school. Consequently, when their daughters remain idle at home, they are compelled to marry in the hope of improving their families’ financial situations.
The district of Amudat has limited educational facilities, with only three secondary schools and 13 primary schools. Among its 11 sub-counties, only three have secondary schools, and some of these are still under construction. This lack of educational infrastructure contributes significantly to the district’s high illiteracy rate.
Amudat is recognized as one of the poorest-performing districts in the country, with a literacy rate of only 0.6 percent, compared to 35 percent in the restive mineral-rich Karamoja sub-region.
Michael Longok, the district community development officer, highlighted the absence of government facilities, such as police posts in most sub-counties, which leaves young girls without adequate security.
To address these challenges, non-governmental organizations like Action Aid have established GBV stop centers in the district. These centers have played a crucial role in rescuing girls from forced marriages and reintegrating them into schools.
Suzan Ikakwol, a psychosocial support officer with Action Aid International Uganda in Amudat district, stated that they have made a significant impact since their establishment, assisting over 500 individuals. In 2022 alone, more than 500 cases were reported, with five to seven survivors seeking help daily at the one-stop shelter. Survivors receive vocational training as part of their rehabilitation and preparation for returning to school.
Despite various interventions aimed at ending child marriage and gender-based violence, the existence of porous borders has posed challenges. Offenders often flee to neighboring countries like Kenya to evade authorities.
In terms of legal measures, Section 129 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007 states that anyone engaging in a sexual act with a person below the age of 18 commits a felony known as defilement, punishable by life imprisonment.