The issue of dowry is increasingly becoming a bone of contention for liberal Africans. However, even in the most profitable of instances, the bride and groom are at least known to each other and have been courting. This is not the case for Nyalong Ngong Deng Jalang, the 17-year-old who caught the attention of the world when the specifics of her suitors and their marriage bids were posted on Facebook.

Not only did the case spark outcries against child marriage, given that Jalang is not yet a fully consenting adult, but it also prompted criticism over the process in which her spouse was chosen.

Viral sensation

South Sudanese human rights lawyer Phillips Ngong told CNN the assets were proposed in the context of an auction that took place in person, and the dowry amount pledged was higher than usual, which prompted a discussion on Facebook.

A Facebook user shared the story, asking social media users to state how many cows they would be willing to pay for Nyalong’s hand in marriage.

“Meet Nyalong Ngong Deng Jalang, whose dowry is 500 cows and three V8 cars. She hails from Awerial in former Lake State in South Sudan. Currently, five men are competing to marry her. Out of the five, one is leading with 500 cows and three V8 cars and that is none other than Kok Alat. Among the competitors is the former commissioner of Awerial and the current deputy governor of Eastern Lakes State, among others. Secondly, if you were to join the race, how many cows would you pay to marry her?” he wrote.

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Activists said they are concerned that this practice could inspire other families to use social media sites to receive larger dowry payments.

“In South Sudan, Facebook and social media is a brand-new thing. Someone just took a picture. And it went viral,” Ngong said.

Facebook came under fire for the post, which they eventually took down. A company spokesperson said in a statement that any form of “human trafficking – whether posts, pages, ads or groups – is not allowed on Facebook”.

“We removed the post and permanently disabled the account belonging to the person who posted this to Facebook.”

Child marriage

According to children’s rights organisation Plan International, the bride was “married off to the winning bidder” at a ceremony on 3 November 2018 in the country’s Eastern Lake region. Five men, some of whom were reportedly high-ranking South Sudanese government officials, participated in the “auction”, Plan International said.

Ngong said the fact that a state government official in particular was allegedly involved makes this a direct violation of child marriage laws by men in power: “Anything that happens that is not in the best interest of the child is a violation. And the constitution and child laws are very clear on that.”

South Sudan’s Constitution states that marriage requires the “free and full consent” of those intending to marry. A child is defined as anyone under the age of 18, according to the country’s Child Act of 2008, which adds that “every child has the right to be protected from early marriage”.