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« How my sister’s story fired in me a passion to stand up to child marriage »

Young advocate Humphrey gives a talk about the health impact of child marriage

I was born 23 years ago in western Uganda, but when I was 9 months old my mother succumbed to cancer. I was raised by my sister.

She was married at 17, because as our eldest sibling, it was decided that she should marry so that she and her husband could take care of the family. She had no choice in the matter.

She left the village to look for better opportunities, but a year after her arrival in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, her husband died of HIV. I was just 18 months old. She was left with a huge burden to carry – it was agonising.

But my sister isn’t a unique case. On my return to my village, I found out that most of my peers got married before they reached 18, often with no choice. In Africa, girls are the most vulnerable to child marriage, a practice driven by cultural beliefs and sometimes financial hardships in families. By marrying off their daughters in exchange for a bride price, some families see girls as a source of income. That’s why some parents drag their young daughters into marriage against their will.

My sister’s experience fired a passion in me to fight against child marriage.

Humphrey

My sister’s experience fired a passion in me to fight against child marriage. In 2010 I started Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU), a youth empowerment organisation that is a platform for young people in Uganda to express themselves and acquire the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions in life. I and a team of young people tour schools and universities, along with cultural icons, to encourage students to make the right choices when it comes to their sexuality, including their right to choose when and whom to marry.

I hope to expand RAHU into a sustainable project on reproductive health, physical, social and intellectual growth and development of young people in my country. Until young people learn to be in control of their sex lives, early marriage will forever be a menace to human development. The stigma that I experienced just because my sister was an HIV patient has been unbearable and probably explains why I have been so involved in the campaign against HIV too.

I believe young people are the drivers of our nation. If we don’t do it, no one will do it for us! ‘Young People for Young People’, that’s my motto.

My sister now has two children and lives happily. She is open about her HIV status, which has definitely helped me to talk about my status, too. She’s proud of my work and the struggles that I have gone through to campaign on sensitive issues like child marriage and HIV. She’s amazed how far I’ve managed to take it! Ultimately, I tell her, everything we’ve achieved at Reach a Hand Uganda is thanks to her. I am inspired by the strength she found in her own struggle and I let that guide me in my work. She is in my prayers all the time, as I am in hers.