UN Police in Eastern Equatoria spearhead awareness-raising campaign on effects of child marriages
A group of 45 women in Torit, Eastern Equatoria State, have renewed their commitment to ending the harmful practice of child marriages.
They made their pledge following their participation in a two-day workshop raising awareness about the multiple negative impacts of children getting married, with or without their consent, with young girls in this situation often being denied education.
“I believe increased access to education for girls and intensive awareness-raising efforts, especially in rural communities, will be crucial in ending this negative tradition,” said Jessica Achai Remas, a volunteer at the Torit Women’s centre.
This particular training, part of a state-wide campaign spearheaded by UN police officers and Rwandan military medical staff serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, targeted women from Torit’s Nyong community. The facilitators acknowledge that there is a long way to go to end early and frequently forced marriages.
“Change cannot happen overnight; it is a process that must run its course. Not only are the people here still reeling from the consequences of conflicts, but entire communities also continue to be shaped by cultural traditions, no matter how harmful they may be,” says Sharmila Ashwin Lata, the United Nations Police Advisor in Eastern Equatoria.
While child marriages affect both girls and boys, young females tend to bear the lion share of the brunt. By eradicating the practice, the campaign aims at reducing the alarmingly high rates of maternal mortality observed in the state. Many premature mothers die from obstructed labour and other birth complications.
“Too many girls are suffering serious physical and psychological health risks when they give birth. We hope this renewed agenda will help prevent this from happening,” Ms. Lata adds.
During the forum, participants shared their own experiences and asserted that more must be done at all levels.
“Making this campaign a success is our collective responsibility,” said Elizabeth Ehari George, who works with the state’s coalition of women’s and youth organizations. “Many more men need to become engaged because they are the decision makers and often the initiators of marriages and the bride price negotiators.”
Employment, and the necessary skills to obtain it, was also stressed as an important factor to protect girls from being married off.
“They should be encouraged and supported to acquire vocational skills so that they can become self-reliant,” said Joyce Amito Obwoya, representing the Eastern Equatoria Women’s Association.
This United Nations campaign in the state builds on earlier achievements and supports a multisectoral approach, bringing together government ministries, service providers and community groups in search of a comprehensive solution to the pervasive problem of child marriages.
“We are doing our best to implement the national strategic plan on the matter, but inadequate funding limits our capacity,” laments Idwa Dominica Vitale, a director at the state Ministry of Gender. “Financial hardships resulting from COVID-19 also force some young girls to get married.”