During the COVID-19 pandemic, violence against children has exacerbated. Agnes Kabonesa shares her story as a child bride.
Agnes Kabonesa from Uganda is a young leader and 19-year old advocating to end violence against children with World Vision Uganda. When Agnes was a child, at only 15-years old, her mother decided to marry her off to a 17-year old boy for one cow, 50,000 shillings, and additional cassava.
“When I was sold into that marriage I went through a number of forms of violence: I had to do child labor. I was working out on people's farms to get money for a living. Sometimes I would sleep without eating anything,” she said recalling the hardships she endured in her childhood youth.
Agnes: I was not happy.
Three months later, Agnes got pregnant and the boy could not support her and take care of her properly. “He was also surviving on his brother’s little money he was earning from selling milk, that is good from a cow,” she said cool-headedly.
“Because of that situation —not enough food and doing a lot of work when I'm still a young child— I had complications during my labor. So when I gave birth to my child, my baby passed on when it was one day old,” she revealed in a sorrowful, yet unwavering tone.
Agnes: I continued in that marriage with a silent burning in my heart.
“When my baby passed on, I came back and continued staying with that boy. But I was not happy. I was heartbroken because I wanted to go to school. I wanted to study like any other person.”
Agnes did not know where she could go to and where to report to. Several times she tried to go to police stations and every time the police asked for money in order to go and arrest the boy, in order to go and arrest the perpetrators. As a child, she could not afford the money.
“ I continued in that marriage with a silent burning in my heart,” she revealed the reasons why she could not escape.
“Then one day, it was a month after the death of my child when a youth group announced they were asking for guns to conduct desensitization through music, dance and drama. I decided to register and join that group,” she went on to retell her story.
When she joined that group, Agnes was asked to be the secretary because she was the only one who knew how to write in English and also translate their local language to English, and back.
“We started composing conversations. And we also started community conversations, community dialogues, presentations, and many other things in the community. While we're doing this, I was feeling bad because I was trying to educate the community, and yet I was stuck. And yet I was stuck here, in this what? In this marriage,” she said about teaching the English language and literature to her community.
Agnes made up her mind and decided to leave this marriage. When her youth group went to one of the communities in their sub counties, she met a lady from World Vision who listened to her story.
Agnes: He was beating me every day
“After speaking to her, she advised me to do something in order to be able to be supported. And she told me my story would be a great story to educate the community, and be able to save other children who have been married over and more work yet to be married for. I decided to say yes to her advice. I accepted that my story could be published in the media,” Agnes spoke of that day she partnered with World Vision.
During this situation, her husband who she was living with was 17 years old. He was not working and had dropped out of school in primary school. When he heard that she was joining the youth group and getting these opportunities, he became angry.
“He was beating me every day —every time I would go for rehearsals and came back, he beat me,” said Agnes recounting her experiences of domestic violence within the child marriage.
“Because of beating me and the rest of the things— I decided to change my mind completely. I left the marriage. But every time I tried to leave the marriage, my mother used to force me and take me back to the marriage. She would even collect clan members and send me back to the marriage,” she said in disbelief.
Agnes decided to leave and stay with her grandmother, but unfortunately, she could not take care of her. “She sent me back to my mom who also pushed me back into the marriage,” Agnes said.
Agnes remained in marriage for another one year until she got the opportunity with World Vision to go back to school. “When I left that marriage and started staying with a well-wisher, unfortunately I didn't know that I was pregnant,” Agnes revealed a new detail in her story.
“I just told them, ‘I need to go to school, I can sit, I can do my exams, even when I'm pregnant.’ And I was able to do that. When I went to school, I was able to pass and I performed better then,” she spoke resolutely.
Her dream was to become a university graduate. “My dream was to be a better person. My dream was to be somebody who can provide for the family,” said Agnes Kabonesa.
Even in her mother’s marriage, her father could not provide for her mother whatever she wanted.
“Because for her, every time we asked for basic needs, she felt that we should go and get basic needs for my men. They're the ones who can provide because the tradition looks at women as a social wealth, and dowry,” she explained of the gender inequality within her community, that leads to gender violence against women.
For that reason, Agnes’ own mother sold her into the marriage, and even tried to push her sister into the same one. But, when Agnes was finally able to leave her marriage and went back to school to finish her education, she prevented the same ordeal happening to her sister.
“When my results came back, I had passed, and I was able to perform very well in the upper level,” she said proudly of her grades.
Agnes became the first female university graduate from her village, and every child in there now looks at her as a role model. “For that reason, I have continued the work of advocacy in line with children,” Agnes said unfalteringly, with an unwavering purpose.
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