Early Marriages Hit Eastern Equatoria State

Young girls from Kimotong in Budi County performing a traditional dance. The Children Act 2008 prohibits subjecting children to negative and harmful practices that affect their health, welfare and dignity. [ File]

Terming it as a violation of girl-child’s rights, the Minister said that “you find a under-aged girl is forced by some parents to marry an elderly man just on the pretext that he is rich or having big herds of cattle.”

Citizens have concurred with her observation saying the practice is so common beyond doubts in the region among all ethnic communities.

They have recommended enactment of laws by the state lawmakers coupled with awareness campaigns that carry profitable messages to discouraging the perpetrators to abandon it.

In South Sudan 7.3% of girls in South Sudan are married before they reach 15 and 42.2% between the ages of 15 and 18. This is contributing to the large numbers of girls who are dropping out of primary school before the end of the eight-year cycle; while around 37% of girls enrol in primary school, only around 7% complete the curriculum and only 2% go on to enrol in secondary school.

Many indigenous pastoralist communities in Eastern Equatoria State marry off their underage girls when they are supposed to attend to classes as early as less than 14 years old only for wealth which is in form of cows.

The 2010 Sudan Household Health Survey (SHHS) had indicated that about 40 percent of South Sudanese girls are married off when they are still children, before they reach the age of 18.

Speaking this year in commemoration of African Child Day in June, leaders noted that child marriage is still a big problem in South Sudan and it partly accounts for the high illiteracy rates in the country as only 6.2 percent of girls enrolled complete the full primary school cycle. (READ: Parents Auction Girls At Early Age For Wealth: Report

It also accounts for the high maternal deaths in the country as girls’ bodies are not fully developed for motherhood.

Globally, one in three young women aged 20-24 years were first married before they reached age 18. One third of them entered into marriage before they turned 15.

The South Sudan Child Act 2008 prohibits subjecting children to negative and harmful practices that affect their health, welfare and dignity. The Child Act also protects every female child from sexual abuse and exploitation and gender-based violence, including rape, incest, early and forced marriage, female circumcision and female genital mutilation. Child marriage results in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks, sometimes even death for girls.

Preventing child marriage will protect girls’ rights and help reduce their risks of violence, early pregnancy, HIV infection, maternal death and disability. When girls are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, they can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families and participate in the progress of their nations. (READ: Early Marriages Hinder South Sudan Prospects

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, UNICEF and other partners are working on a range of activities to create awareness among the general public on the need to prevent and end child marriage in South Sudan.

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