Price Of Your Daughter: In Congo, Costly Dowries Clash With New Values

In Goma, in eastern DRC, families looking to cash in on the biggest dowry are pushing young people away from mariage. Some young people chose to live as unmarried partners, others break up and most young women stay at home with their parents...

Praying for a peace and prosperous futures (babasteve)
Praying for a peace and prosperous futures (babasteve)
Clarisse Tantine

GOMA - "My life is going to change thanks to my daughter. I am going to ask for four cows. Each will be worth 2,000 dollars, and with that I'll buy a car!" Jean-Pierre, a resident of Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been thinking about this for a long time. He is explaining his project to the man who will represent him during negotiations for his daughter's dowry. These "spokespeople" have the last word: they decide what the terms are, and often settle the negotiations against the interests of the young groom-to-be.

It is a situation that upsets many young people who would rather live with their partner without their families' blessing. "I live with my fiancée, not my wife, because my in-laws were asking for an outrageous amount of money that would take me at least four years to save," says 29-year-old Theodore. "They didn't want the little that I had, and the waiting would be too long. So my fiancée and I decided to live together without their agreement. The rest will follow."

Many young women often argue in favor of their suitors. Theodore's fiancée, Yvette, acknowledges that as a sign of respect to the family, parents have a right to a gift, but says it shouldn't be out of proportion. "I followed my fiancé for two reasons: first for love, and then because he was willing to give the little money he had to my family," she says. "But my parents wanted more! If he gave them what they were asking for, how would he provide for my needs?"

She says she tried to explain her fiancé"s situation to her parents and tell them they were hurting her. "By asking so much money from him, you are making my life difficult. Give me a chance to get married. Otherwise I'll commit suicide!"

Unwillingly single

But other young women play into their parent's projects, by plotting against their future husbands. With her wedding approaching, Helene explains to her friends at the University of Goma how she sees it. "My husband has to give me a lot of money to prove he will respect me and consider me as important. And my parents will take advantage of it and buy land downtown," she says. "They struggled to raise me and pay for my education. They have to take advantage of the situation!"

Other family members are just as interested, like this uncle telling his brother-in-law "each member has to get something out of it. You must not forget that uncles and aunts are privileged beneficiaries. We must respect this custom in order for the bride to be blessed." This practice leads to rivalries between families, some of whom see receiving an important dowry as proof that the family is important.

Faced with high expectations, some fiancés give up. And the older these young women get, the fewer fiancés they find. "My marriage was cancelled because the dowry was too high. Two years afterwards, boys still neglect me," says Gisele. Some families are now ready to compromise to avoid having their daughter staying with them forever. "The world has changed. We shouldn't just focus on material things. Leaving our daughter without a husband isn't going to help anyone," says an older man.

Daughters are also increasingly offended about the symbol of the dowry. "It's a gift from the boy's family to the girl's family. But it isn't nice to sell me like a product. It's love that matters in a household, not material things," says Rolande as she argues with her father.

"We need to give young couples guidance without confusing them," says Joséphine Nabishusha, a renowned spokesperson for dowry negotiations in Goma. "We should make things easier for boys so that they don't feel the need to lie about their situation to our daughters."

Read more from Syfia in French.

Photo - babasteve

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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