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The Nexus Between Bridewealth, Family Curse, and Spontaneous Abortion Among Southern Sudanese Women


  • Monica Adhiambo Onyango RNM, MPH, MS, PhD,

    1. Alpha Chi, Clinical Assistant Professor, Boston College, Boston University School of Public Health/Department of International Health, Boston, MA
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  • Sandra Mott PhD, CPN, RN-BC

    1. Alpha Chi, Retired Associate Professor, Boston College, Wm F. Connell School of Nursing, Chestnut Hill, MA and current Nurse Scientist and Consultant, Cardiovascular Program, Children's Hospital, Boston, MA
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Dr. Monica Adhiambo Onyango, Boston University School of Public Health/Department of International Health, 801 Massachusetts Avenue, Crosstown Center, 3rd floor, Boston, MA 02169. E-mail:


Purpose: In this study we explored women's experiences with abortion complications in the postwar context of South Sudan. Abortion complications are the leading cause of admissions to gynecology units in major hospitals of South Sudan. Payment of bridewealth by the husband to the woman's relatives is critical and a symbolic binding of the commitment between families and clans. Failure by a husband to meet the bridewealth obligation is believed to result in a family curse that may cause abortion or death of children in a marriage.

Design: Qualitative descriptive design was used to collect data from 26 women treated for abortion complications at a county hospital in South Sudan. In-depth interviews were conducted from March through April 2008.

Findings: The majority of women in this study, whose husbands had not followed the cultural rules of bridewealth payment, believed that a family curse caused the abortion. The women thought that they would continue to experience spontaneous abortion with subsequent pregnancies until the bridewealth issue was resolved.

Conclusions: Cultural beliefs and the status of women in society can hinder access to information on abortion prevention, treatment, and other reproductive health care.

Clinical Relevance: Listening to women's perspectives and providing culturally relevant and gender-sensitive reproductive health interventions is important for effective programming by nurses among diverse cultures globally.

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