Heartbreakingly, Juliet's situation is not unique. A third of Ugandan women are married as children. In Juliet’s hometown Kahunge, girls as young as 12 drop out of school to get married.
Now more than ever, marriage feels like the only option for many girls since the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shut for more than a year at the same time as many families fell into an abyss of poverty. The hard reality of struggling to find food for each day has evaporated many girls’ dream of finishing their education, and getting married seems like an easy way to a better life. At the same time, many parents encourage their teenage daughters to leave school and marry because of the common practice of dowry payments, which men traditionally pay the girl’s family in exchange for their wife.
But child protection experts in Uganda say the driving force behind child marriage often runs even deeper.
“It happens often because they don’t feel loved and supported at home,” says Margaret Ayebazibwe, a World Vision child protection officer in Uganda. "Instead, they look to a man to love and support them. School girls envy their married peers who get lots of attention as well as gifts, new clothes, and often babies.”
In Uganda, school dropout rates among girls are much higher than boys, with marriage, pregnancy and financial constraints the most common reasons girls give for leaving.
When Juliet realised the trap she’d fallen into, she didn’t know what to do. “I like school very much, so I was sad,” she says. “I insisted that I wanted to go back home. I didn’t want to be married anymore.”