Ending Child Marriage in South Sudan: Our collective responsibility
Juba, South Sudan, 14 June 2013 – South Sudan today joined other African Countries in commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the Day of the African Child (DAC). The day celebrated every June 16th is being celebrated this year under the theme “Eliminating Child Marriage in South Sudan: Our Collective Responsibility.”
Child marriage continues to affect thousands of girls undermining their development prospects and participation in education and other developmental activities. The 2010 Sudan Household Health Survey (SHHS) indicates that about 40% of girls are married off when they are still children.
“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% of girls enrolled complete the full primary school cycle. It also accounts for the high maternal deaths in the country as girls’ bodies are not fully developed for motherhood,” said the Deputy Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, Republic of South Sudan, Honourable Dr Priscilla Nyang Joseph.
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.
“Child marriage is a violation of girls’ basic rights - to a childhood, to an education, to good health and to make decisions about her own life. It can lead to unwanted pregnancies and even death. The only way to end this harmful cultural and social practice is through collective efforts from everyone in the society right from the grass root level to the policy-makers level,” said UNICEF’s Officer–in-Charge, Fatuma Hamidali Ibrahim.
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.
13 year old Elizabeth from Kapoeta is one of the few lucky girls who narrowly escaped child marriage. She was forcefully removed from school by her brothers to marry her off in exchange for cattle but thanks to her mother and other advocates trying to end child marriage, she is back in school.
“I am happy to be back in school and I would like to encourage parents to send their girls to school instead of marrying them off. Educated girls are more likely to help their parents in the long run,” said Elizabeth.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, UNICEF and other partners are working on a range of activities to commemorate the day and create awareness among the general public on the need to prevent and end child marriage in South Sudan.
Dr Nyang called on all stakeholders to be actively involved in ending child marriage in her concluding remarks, “I call upon the government and development partners to come up with specific policies that will be translated into action plans as well as allocate adequate resources for the fight against child marriage. I also call upon all opinion leaders and community based organizations to engage in raising awareness on the dangers of child marriage .”
Notes to the editor
The DAC is commemorated every year on June 16 by Member States of the African Union (AU), and its Partners (in accordance with Resolution CM/Res.1290 (XL). This commemoration is firstly an occasion to recall the 1976 uprisings in Soweto, when a protest by school children in South Africa against apartheid-inspired education resulted in the brutal and deadly repression of these unarmed young protesters by police officials.
Secondly, the DAC further presents an opportunity to reflect on the realities of children in Africa. It allows caregivers to focus on the work of all actors committed to the rights of children in the continent and to consolidate their efforts in addressing the obstacles for realizing the rights of children. The DAC also provides an occasion for Governments, international institutions and communities to renew their on-going commitments towards improving the plight of the marginalized in general and particularly vulnerable children, and raising awareness. These stakeholders organize activities and programs to improve the situation of all children and to include those who require special care.
UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: http://www.unicef.org/southsudan
For further information, please contact:
Mercy Kolok, Communication Officer, UNICEF South Sudan
Celina Peter, Director of Child Welfare, Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare