A child bride sets up a new future
When people in the village want a new pair of shoes or a nice new bag, they go and see Diana.
It’s a remarkable turnaround since she dropped out of school, got married and gave birth at the age of 15. Unable to complete her education, she worried how she’d be able to support her two young children. Now, aged 21 and with help from Save the Children, she runs a thriving leather business that supports all generations of the family.
Diana loved school and was doing well in class, but when her parents separated, her father said she couldn’t continue. “My father beat my mother and she ran away. He said he didn’t have money to send me to school,” she remembers. “He said, ‘you’re big enough now, you should get married.’”
Although the legal age for marriage is 18, one under-age girl gets married roughly every minute in Uganda. In parts of Nwoya district in Northern Uganda, where Diana is from, 68% of girls get married before they turn 18. Diana didn’t want to be one of them.
“I started digging and farming (to try and earn money), but it wasn’t easy. It was hard to earn enough to pay for school,” she says.
When she was 15 and working, Diana met a man. “He was 20. He started calling, and telling me he wanted a relationship. I tried to find out more about him and his family.
“I decided to listen to my father and get married. I hoped that he could help me go back to school.”
Diana says the marriage went ok at first. “Things were normal. Everyone in the family liked me. I got pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. If I was sick he gave me money for treatment. If the baby got sick, we’d go together to the hospital.”
But things started to change when she got pregnant with a second baby. “He became distant. He liked to drink alcohol and play cards. When he went out for work, he didn’t come home. I’d ask him where he slept that night. When I got sick he didn’t care and told me to just go and pick herbs in the forest.”
Diana gradually became depressed in the marriage and left to go and live with her mother.
“That’s when I got involved with Save the Children,” she says. The Youth Empowerment Project, funded by Italian jewellery company Bulgari, helps youth who had to drop out of school to learn a trade and skills for their future.
“There were lots of options,” says Diana of the vocational courses offered by the project. “Carpentry, hairdressing, joinery… my mother told me to learn agriculture, but I told her I’d dug enough!
“I liked the idea of making shoes, so I decided to learn leatherwork.”
She started the leatherwork course in August 2017 and did so well that she was soon a star pupil. Caroline, her teacher and a local artisan, says: “Dana was a good student. Every assignment you could give her, she did well. She listened well… she was elected by her fellow trainees to be their leader.”
Diana says she was driven by the chance of a new start, and her regret at never finishing school. Her desire to learn impressed everyone. “I was told I was one of the best students and always concentrating,” she says. “I concentrated fully because I didn’t want to go back to my previous life.”
After the course she was given a start-up kit and further training in Caroline’s workshop, before setting up her own business in the village.
The money from the business helps Diana to send her children – now aged 4 and 6 – to school and pre-school, and to pay health bills when they get sick. She also looks after her mother and other relatives.
For now she’s happy and thriving on her own. “(My husband’s) parents want me to go back, but I don’t want to. If I could tell young girls one thing, it’s not to get married early.
“Parents and communities have to do more to stop early marriage.”