BY Stephen Nartey, 1:18pm March 17, 2023,

Why South Sudan is using an age-old dowry system to reverse girl dropouts statistics in school

Bull/Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

In parts of South Sudan, a girl’s worth is tied to the number of cattle demanded from the prospective groom who seeks her hand in marriage. The cattle are not classified as just any other animal or source of food, but as baggage of wealth, security, and stability. In some villages, owning a herd of cattle is equivalent to saving at the bank. With a lot of pride, pastoral communities in Sudan care for their cattle; this has been a tradition for thousands of years.

The civil war in the country’s recent past may have destabilized some traditional customs that were preserved by the people for centuries, but one of the customs which were sustained is their marriage custom. When a man wants to get married, it is mandatory he works toward securing dowries, which traditionally come in the form of cattle. The bidding for eligible women in some instances can cost prospective grooms and their families a lot of cattle worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Aside from the associated costs, there are laid down determinants for the number of cattle a man needs to provide before a girl’s hand is given out in marriage. These elements include the height of the woman, her level of education, and the family background she belongs to. If a woman is very tall and voluptuous with a good pedigree, the possibility of the man providing more cattle is high. The average dowries in this case can range from 10 to 60 cattle, according to the Times.

 In some pastoral communities, the number of cattle demanded is tied to the girl’s level of education. This emerging trend has become an incentive for some families to educate their girl child to higher levels. The reason is simple, a well-educated girl attracts more cattle, which costs $250 per head. According to UNICEF, 35 percent of South Sudanese girls go to school.

It is significant that many communities are using this age-old tradition to stem the tide of high school dropouts among girls. Staying in school is now more attractive for girls because the length of a girl’s educational period determines the weight and demands of her dowry. The families consider paying tuition as a form of investment that can be retrieved when the dowries of their daughters are paid, according to relief web.

UNICEF states that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to promote development and growth. In the past, marriage has been a way of ending the education of girls and getting them tied to domestic chores. A positive trend has emerged in more recent times as a result of the premium placed on educating girls.

This has also inadvertently influenced the type of cattle the family requires. There are age-old classifications the bull or cow must meet; the key characteristic that is looked out for is the color of the coat. This is followed by the horns the animal must have. A bull is considered a prized one when the horn is neither too big nor small and is slightly bent, which is an indication that it is unique and extraordinary. With such qualities, the groom will be willing to pay any price to enhance their chances of winning the bride.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 17, 2023


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