Child marriage: A silent human rights and health concern in South Sudan’s Lakes region
Women of Eastern Lakes have decried early marriage, describing the practice as gender-based violence, and called on the government and traditional authorities to ensure the practice ceases immediately.
“Most of our girls are forced out of school to marry when they are still young. This affects their education and health, especially during delivery,” said Mary Achuei, at a two-day workshop organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Mary Achuei says besides the health problems, child marriage exposes girls to violence, denies them access to social networks and support systems, and perpetuates a cycle of poverty and gender inequality.
Ms. Hellena Achut, chairlady of Eastern Lakes Women Association, blames child brides on poverty and negative customs.
“Our daughters are victims of poverty and bad cultural beliefs that make Dinka men superior over women and girls. This is so sad,” Ms. Achut lamented.
“Child marriage” is generally understood to mean marriage that happens before age 18, according to the South Sudan Child Act 2008, but for many girls, marriage occurs much earlier. In some parts of South Sudan, girls as young as 13 or 14 are forced by their families to marry much older men. The reasons girls are married are diverse, and parents sometimes believe that through marriage, they are protecting their daughters and increasing their economic opportunities.
The State Gender Advisor to the Government of Eastern Lakes, Ms. Angelina Mario, says it is important that children are recognized in the law as being children and that they are accorded the full protection of the law.
“I will continue to engage our government to be cognizant of child rights and accord them full protection of the law,” Ms. Mario stressed.
UNMISS’ Gender Affairs Officer Ms. Doris Saydee emphasizes the need to have clear legal framework and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard children’s rights in South Sudan.
“The existence of laws that set a minimum age for marriage is an important tool that helps those working to dissuade families and communities from marrying off their daughters as children,” Doris said.
The United Nations and other international agencies have declared that child marriage violates human rights and children’s rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that individuals must enter marriage freely with full consent and must be at the age full of majority.