Author: Manyang David Mayar, April 26 2016 - In South Sudan, it’s not uncommon for older men to offer girls and young women gifts of transport, mobile phones and cash with the expectation of them starting a sexual relationship in return. This sometimes has disastrous consequences for their education.

Rose, aged 16, was a committed pupil before a relationship with an older man caused her to drop out of school. On her way to school one morning she arrived at the bus station and found there was no transport. She was stuck and didn’t know what to do when a man in his thirties cruised by in his car and offered her lift. Desperate not to be late for her morning lessons, she accepted the lift and jumped into the man’s car.

Rose, now 29, told her story to Florence Michael, a producer of Our School, a radio programme which discusses the importance of girls completing their education in South Sudan.

“On our way, he asked for my name, I introduced myself then he did the same,” Rose said. “Reaching school he asked me if we could meet again.”

Over the next few months, the man continued to give Rose lifts to school. He didn’t stop there. He gave her a whole variety of gifts, including money and a mobile phone. Not long after that, the man asked for something else.

He asked Rose to be his girlfriend. A few months later she was pregnant.

“After I conceived I couldn’t go to school,” Rose said. “The man had a wife; he only came to spoil me then went back to his wife. Up to now, I couldn’t get back to school and there’s no one helping me with my child.”

Rose isn’t the only one. Monica from Lakes State, Mimi from Juba and Esther from Maridi in Western Equatoria State told our producers they left school after developing relationships with older men. They all say it started with gifts.

Many people in South Sudan are poor and public transport is often unreliable. School teachers and parents we interviewed believe some men take advantage of this situation to seduce schoolgirls into relationships.

Gifts from strangers

Atong, a female teacher in Mingkaman, Lakes State, said she is aware this goes on and they are doing their best to alleviate the situation.

“During lessons, we tell girls to protect themselves by rejecting any gifts from strangers”, Atong told Abraham Machuor, another Our School producer.

Wilson, a parent, entered into the debate, saying it’s not enough to tell girls not to accept gifts. “You have to give her a budget,” he said. “For example, money for transport, to and from school, money for breakfast…and she’ll be free and not think about what others can give her.”

Many of the girls we interviewed – from a number of states – said they believed the benefits of education outweighed the attraction of gifts that come with strings attached.

“If somebody gave me something, I would concentrate on that person and forget my education, that’s why I reject gifts,” said one girl, “Even if I am poor, I have to continue with my education until I finish and be rich like that person.”

It’s satisfying to know our radio programmes are giving people a platform to talk frankly about such a sensitive issue as well as discussing ways to overcome it.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Sudan.
Image credit: BBC Media Action

BBC Media Action
BBC Media Centre, MC3A, 201 Wood Lane
W12 7TQ
United Kingdom (UK)
Phone: 44 (0) 20 8008 0001
Fax: 44 (0) 20 8008 5970