Ayen is a 15-year-old girl from Bor in South Sudan. When war broke out in Bor, she fled to Awerial County with her father and step-mother. While in Awerial, Ayen was told by her father that she must marry a 48-year-old man. In an attempt to escape this marriage, she fled. However, her father tracked her down, brought her back home and tied her up. Despite this, she managed to escape a second time. 

A lady named Alek found Ayen trying to drown herself in a river. Alek took her in for the day, and went to Save the Children the following day to report the case. Alek has eight children.  She has fostered four children before, but they have all gone back to their parents. In her own words, Ayen tells us her story below:

“My father mistreated me by giving me a man who is not my age match.  He’s an old man and he is also a drunkard, but my father tried to force me to marry him. That’s why I escaped from home. I told him it’s not good for me to be married to this old man, and that he should let me look for another man.  When my father refused I escaped to my grandmother’s place but he brought me back and caned me seriously.  My father wanted me to marry the man because of the dowry, because he had money.

After canning me, he tied my legs with a rope so that I could not escape again. I slept with my legs tied. Afterwards I called my younger brother to bring a knife to remove the rope, and then I escaped. On the first night after I left I stayed under a mango tree by the roadside for two days. But I heard that they were looking for me, so I decided to kill myself.  I went to the river to drown myself.  That is when this lady (Alek) found me and called me. I was crying, but she took me home.

I left home with only one set of clothes, and no shoes. Even if my father agrees that I shouldn’t marry that man, I don’t want to go back to live with him. He mistreats me. Why did he treat me like this? He made me feel like I had no parents. I have decided not to go back again. I will stay with this lady. My father and stepmother don’t love me the way they love the children from their marriage.”

I am living with this lady (Alek) very well, and she’s trying to manage me like my mother. These clothes I am wearing, she gave me. I am good with her. I would like to marriage my age-mate, someone who is the same as me. Maybe the right man for me will come. Someone I love and they accept me too. But for me to be with a man who I do not want – I cannot accept this.”

In South Sudan, Save the Children is campaigning for girls that are excluded from surviving and learning because of cultural practices that undermine their rights, wellbeing and access to opportunities.

Ayen’s new foster mother Alek is not a stranger to child marriage issues. She has received training from Save the Children on the dangers of child marriage. 

“If a child is married early, she is not ready to do many of the duties for a family. In South Sudan, people do not know the dangers of child marriage. We need more training and to teach the community about this issue. I have been trained and I know that it is bad. I even try to sensitize other communities. As a foster parent, I was trained on the issues of how to protect a child – so I am appealing to other community members apply this too.

I am happy with the situation of [Ayen] now because she is now with me. She was about to kill herself but now she is okay. It was God who made me find her by the river trying to kill herself.  Now she is okay here with me. I look at all children like my own children.”

Together we can make sure girls like Ayen have the opportunity to survive and thrive.