Five hundred cows, two luxury cars, $10,000, two bikes, a boat, and a few cell phones made up the final price in a heated bidding war for a teenage bride in South Sudan that went viral after the auction was pointed out on Facebook. The government says it's the largest dowry ever paid in the war-torn country, while a human rights lawyer who tried to stop the bidding last month calls it "the biggest test of child abuse, trafficking, and auctioning of a human being," per the AP. The highest bidder was a man three times the 17-year-old's age, a man who reportedly has eight other wives. Lawyer Philips Anyang Ngong said at least four other men in Eastern Lakes state competed for the girl, identified as Nyalong, including the deputy governor. Photos posted on Facebook show Nyalong sitting beside the groom, wearing a lavish dress and staring despondently at the floor.
South Sudan has a deeply rooted cultural practice of paying dowries for brides, and a long history of child marriage. Even though that practice is now illegal, the government says it can't regulate communities' cultural norms, especially in remote areas, and an estimated 40% of girls still marry before 18. "It's not bidding … it's a tradition that goes back thousands of years," a government rep tells the AP, though the scene caused both local and international outrage. "It is clear that some human trafficking practices are hidden in our culture," the country's anti-human trafficking chief said after related posts were removed from Facebook. He said the case was reminiscent of others he has seen across the country, in which girls are forced or tricked into marriage after being told they are going to live with relatives. (This child bride was dead by 9.)