Dowry’s dark shadow

South Sudanese leadership talked to me about the practice of dowry – the provision of gifts at the time of marriage, usually from a groom’s family to a bride.

A man or a man’s mother can choose the woman or the woman’s family for marriage. They then approach the girl and tell her that they want her to be married. She then goes to her father or the male head of the family and tells him of the proposal.

Women do not generally choose their husbands.They say the dowry system stands for respecting the fact that the family has raised this woman, but it has consequences.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

It is the main cause of early marriage in South Sudan. In difficult times, many parents make decisions to allow younger girls of less than 15 years to get married so as to gain dowries to support their living.

Women and girls tends to be viewed as property of the husband instead of a person; the husband owns her.

In most Sudanese families a women is not allowed to talk about domestic violence because they believe that it is a family issue.

In some cases, girls forced into early marriage end up divorcing. When divorce occurs, the dowry paid to the bride’s family must be negotiated. Divorce can isolate women from their family and community

A petition calling for the practice of ‘dowry’ to be recognised as family violence has been tabled in Victoria’s Parliament. Those behind the move say there’s little doubt ongoing demands for dowry are fuelling domestic abuse in some ethnic communities.