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She was sold into marriage at only 17 years old

Forced to flee her home to avoid a surprise engagement, Sara’s escape from forced marriage brings her closer to God

It seemed like any other day. But when Sara* came home from school that afternoon, she was shocked to learn she was engaged – to a man over twice her age!

“They told me it was arranged three years earlier when I was 14. My parents said ‘we already agreed with this family and this is our plan.’ But I told them I wasn’t ready to get married. I am only 17 and he is old. I didn’t even know who he was.”

So Sara ran away.

Living in South Sudan, teenage marriage is not uncommon. Years of war left the country in shambles and many families live in extreme poverty. Families seek to marry their children at a young age to help financially. But through initiatives like Tearfund’s Trauma Healing Program, people like you are making a difference: slowly changing attitudes and making childhood marriage less common.

After thinking through her options, Sara went to the only place she felt she would be safe: the nearby church led by Bishop Joseph. As she knocked, the door opened to his wife, and Sara explained everything. They invited her in until a more permanent arrangement could be found.  

As one of the churches enrolled her in Tearfund’s Trauma Healing program, Bishop Joseph and his wife agreed that it wasn’t right for Sara’s family to force her to marry an older man against her will. The church eventually connected her with some of the women part of the Trauma Healing Group within the church, where one woman took her into her home. There, she was able to continue her studies and graduate from high school. But things didn’t end there.

Sara’s family eventually found out where she was and approached the church. The family confirmed Sara’s testimony and agreed that they would not continue to force her to get married if she came back home. All of that sounded great, however, upon returning, Sara was surprised at the reality of their actions. Instead of six cows, the man’s family increased her bride price to 11 – it seemed as if the marriage was back on!

So, she was forced to flee once more.

 

Sara speaks to us about her experience. When asked if she would be okay with a photo, she insists "I have nothing to hide."
Bishop Joseph in front of his church in South Sudan. Through Trauma Healing Groups, churches in South Sudan are helping women heal from sexual and gender-based violence and helping to slowly change harmful attitudes.
Support from the local church was crucial in Sara's story. She knows that her future is in the hands of God and hopes to continue on with her studies.

Although she remains apart from her family, Sara is optimistic. She is hopeful that once she reaches a consensus with her father, she will be able to return home. She wants to continue her academics if she can get support. This is her focus at the moment, not to get married. Sara’s escape from forced marriage has brought her a stronger faith in God, and she continually seeks him.

“One day, I do hope to get married to a man who is younger and who I love. But at this point, I do not know what the future holds,” she says.

The church has been an immense support to her. Growing up, she was in her local church choir and even led some programs. That’s why she knew it would be a good place to seek refuge. The Trauma Healing Group helped her understand that she is made in the image of God and need not get married if she doesn’t feel comfortable.

“I think this whole experience has brought me closer to God,” she says. “I continue to pray that God would change the minds of my parents and that they would not force me to get married to this man. Even before leaving home, I spent a day fasting and praying before making the decision to flee. God guided me to Bishop Joseph and his wife and has helped me find accommodation.”

“Though there are difficulties because I left home, I feel as if this is better than staying.”

*Name has been changed.

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