|Alfred Malish, 14, at the radio workshop sponsored by UNICEF Radio, Southern Sudan Radio and UNICEF's Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition Programme.|
In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.
JUBA, Southern Sudan, 24 July 2009 – As Alfred Malish, now 14, has grown up, he has noticed an alarming thing happening around him: His female classmates are leaving school early to get married.
Early marriage still happens with some regularity in Sudan, most often for girls, who are sometimes as young as 12 when they’re married off. Marriage at such an early age can be an obstacle to further education; it can also result in complications should the girl become pregnant before her body is adequately developed.
‘People will not like you’
Alfred became aware of the problem after his friend Stella became pregnant at 15.
"I wanted to go to Senior One [class in school] but I'm pregnant, so I can't go," Stella tells Alfred in an interview he conducted last month as part of a radio story on the problem of child marriage in Southern Sudan.
In a warning to other girls in similar circumstances, Stella recalls being ostracized by her friends and her community.
"People will not like you, no one will be your friend and you'll stay alone," she says, adding: "My sisters, I want to tell you like this. Don't run to marriage. Don't attempt to get married at an early age. Giving birth is very difficult."
|Now in his first year at Juba Day Secondary School, Alfred Malish has produced a radio story about early marriage in Southern Sudan and the obstacles it creates for girls who want an education.|
Education for a better future
Alfred's mother believes children should learn from their parents’ mistakes.
"My message to [girls] is they should read, they should study," she tells Alfred in his radio story. "Because we – the mothers – we did not study or reach a high enough level of education."
Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says children have the right to a quality education and should be encouraged to continue to the highest academic level they can achieve.
It's a sentiment echoed by the Director-General for Gender and Child Welfare in the Government of Southern Sudan’s Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Religious Affairs, Regina Ossa Lullo.
"Girls should get educated," she tells Alfred. "Once they've been educated, we have a better Southern Sudan and a better future for our children."
The recently passed Child Act in Southern Sudan states that children have the right to be protected from forced marriage. "Early marriage is usually forced, and it's against the law when a girl is forced," notes Ms. Ossa Lullo. "Any child who is forced to be married can report to the police."
Juba radio workshop
In June, Alfred was one of the participants in a week-long radio production workshop for 10 young people from Juba. UNICEF Radio – in partnership with UNICEF's ‘Back on Track’ programme on Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition, the UNICEF Southern Sudan Area Programme and Southern Sudan Radio – conducted the workshop with five boys and five girls chosen from local schools.
The young people learned how to record, edit, write and produce a radio report of their own.
Alfred's piece on early marriage was broadcast on Southern Sudan Radio on 16 June to commemorate the Day of the African Child.
UNICEF Radio and the Back on Track programme will conduct a series of similar workshops in other countries in the coming months. Their aim: to bring young people's perspectives into the debate around education in emergencies and post-crisis situations – and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the CRC.
Meanwhile, UNICEF's Southern Sudan Area Programme is working with Southern Sudan Radio to involve the new youth journalists in its programmes, empowering young people by giving them the chance to broadcast their voices throughout the region.
Alfred Malish, 14, reports on the problem of early marriage in Southern Sudan.
CRC @ 20
'Back on Track' website