'Giving out their daughters for their survival' refugee self-reliance, vulnerability, and the paradox of early marriage
This report examines the widespread occurrence of early marriages in Uganda’s refugee settlements and how this phenomenon relates to the ‘vulnerability’ and self-reliance paradigms which underpin official protection and assistance. The authors seek to understand why so many refugees engage in early marriages, which are illegal under Ugandan and international law, and widely recognised amongst refugees themselves as harmful.
A background to the broader context of Uganda’s settlements is provided. In these settlements, restricted freedom of movement limits the majority of encamped refugees to subsistence farming, and affords them little or no opportunity to escape a life of poverty and physical insecurity.
Despite the efforts of the Government of Uganda, UNHCR, and their partners, the report argues that the failures of the Uganda’s Self-Reliance Strategy (SRS) and its Development Assistance for Refugees (DAR) in an environment of declining donor funding, has lead a large percentage of refugees to pursue various coping mechanisms to provide for themselves and their families. Early marriage is principal among these strategies, yet paradoxically, it also represents an infringement on the rights of those involved that generally exacerbates existing physical, social, and economic hardship.
Key findings include:
- the ‘vulnerable groups’ approach to refugee protection homogenises individual experience and capability and fails to address the needs of those it seeks to assist
- all relevant actors should recognise the importance of social age within refugee communities, particularly insofar as it can mitigate or exacerbate individual vulnerability
- the government of Uganda should reform the current defilement law, including by decriminalising consensual sexual relations between underage boys and girls of the same age. This is without prejudice to existing legislation governing the crime of rape
- all relevant actors must recognise that early marriage is both a cause of and a response to reduced livelihood options, and provide viable alternatives.