Before Plan International began supporting her community, 15-year-old Locuo believed that her only option was to find a husband to take care of her and her younger brothers and sisters.
She wasn’t alone.
With conflict still raging across South Sudan, many girls feel obliged to make choices that deny their basic right to choose when and to whom they get married. “We ran out of food last year because we weren’t able to grow enough,” she said. “We had to beg.
“I felt that all I could do was get married and have a family. That way I’d have someone to help me take care of my brothers and sisters.”
Locuo missed out on school because the conflict has forced her family to move several times.
She has lost both her parents. She vividly recalls how her father was killed in an attack three years ago.
“It happened when my father and some other men tried to defend our community against the attackers who came to raid our animals,” she said. “After several hours of fighting, we found him lying in a pool of blood, dead.”
Plan International’s Food Security and Livelihoods program has given Locuo the hope that life will get better. The seeds and farming tools she received mean that she can soon look forward to eating more regularly and healthily.
More than 1,700 other individuals in her village received the same assistance.
With this assistance, life is now less of a burden and getting married no longer seems to be the only way she can improve her situation.
“I am hopeful that this year, since we have been given seeds and hoes, we will cultivate in time and at least have something to eat,” she said.
“I no longer think getting married will really solve my problems. I have seen many women earning by selling the crops grown from seeds received from Plan, so I will try farming with my brothers instead.”
As well as farm seeds and tools, Locuo and her community will also benefit from agricultural training provided by Plan and local government officials from the Department of Agriculture.
These programs are designed to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities so they are better prepared for future crises.
Although Locuo has decided not to seek a husband, many girls in South Sudan see no other option. As the conflict and food crisis continue to ravage the country, girls are forced into marriages as they and their families struggle to cope with food insecurity and extreme poverty.
By empowering them economically and providing them with alternative ways to raise income and feed their families, Plan strives to ensure that marriage is a choice for these girls, not an inevitability.