Koerik, South Sudan – There hasn’t been much to sing about in months in Koerik Village. But all this can change: marriage is within reach.
Wearing a green dress and ill-fitting wig, future bride Nyekuoth Manyuan is treated like royalty. Through marriage, she can save her community from starvation.
But as CBS News foreign correspondent Deborah Bhatta reports, it comes at a steep cost: The bride is a child, at just 14.
Two months ago, she had a future outside her small village in South Sudan. She was in school, where not only did she get an education, she got a meal every day. But the cost of food and fuel has skyrocketed, thanks in large part toAs a result, the school lunch program was abruptly suspended.
Much like emergency food aid for millions of people on the brink of famine in flood- and drought-stricken South Sudan, school meals have been subsidized by the United Nations World Food Programme.
The acting country director of the World Food Program told CBS News of the organizationin South Sudan recently because war raises costs, while also reducing donations.
“The reason is that there are many disasters that are exploding around the world,” Marwa Awad, WFP’s head of communications in South Sudan, told CBS News.
Humanitarian crises said inAnd the and now A double-edged sword, the WFP had “less money to feed more and more people”.
Many in Nykwoth village survived by eating water lilies, but at least the children were fed at school. When the cash-strapped World Food Program was forced to suspend that programme, parents like her left the choice between food or education for their children.
While Nicoth’s father was negotiating with the prospective groom’s family about the value of his daughter’s hand in marriage, the women of the village waited for the news and Nicothe sat herself tired, seemingly resigned to her fate.
“I know I’m young,” she said to Patta. “But the food was taken from me, and I want my family to live on the dowry they will receive.”
Her father, Maniwan Kirina, placed a row of sticks in front of the head of the other family, each one representing a cow. He wanted 100 in exchange for his daughter.
“It hurts,” the father admitted. “The cows we get are not worth it. But we are afraid. We have nothing to eat.”
Several hours later, a deal was struck. Cow bells rang and there was dancing and singing. But times are tough. The family agreed to marry Nyekuoth in exchange for 60 poorly fed cattle.
In turn, the groom—more than a decade older than 25—had to take Nyekuoth home that night.
Bata asked her if it was difficult to go with her new husband.
“No, it will never be difficult,” she said, “because I want them to be alive.”
“You shouldn’t choose between food – your right to food – and your right to education,” Awad of the World Food Program told CBS News. “This should not be a choice faced by a 14-year-old, his family or his larger community.” She knows Nyckooth is not a unique case.
“There are a lot of others,” she said to Bata. “We are seeing a significant drop in school attendance.”
“I am ashamed in part because I am unable to help as an individual, and at the same time as an organization,” Awad said. “We are doing our best, but frankly, the solution is that people don’t forget South Sudan. That is the solution, because there are still many lives that can thrive if help is given.”
It costs about $15 a month to feed a child at a school in South Sudan. For the price of four or five cups of coffee, a child can be guaranteed access to education and options beyond early parenting.
Nicot loves science and dreams of being a doctor, but her story is a testament to the many ways hunger can destroy life.