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South Sudan, 1 November 2012: A role model for girls against child marriage in Lakes State

© UNICEF South Sudan/2008/Pirozzi
Girls study at Bandaar Girl's School in Malakal, South Sudan. Early marriage is the reason why few girls complete primary school.

By Kujang Sam Laki & Sid Shrestha

RUMBEK, South Sudan, 1 November 2012 - “I can’t imagine what my life would be if I had been married, but I refused thanks to the support of my family” said 15 old Mary (name changed to protect identity) from Matanggai Primary School of Rumbek Central County, Lakes State. Just a few months ago, a man nearly three times her age had approached her father to ask for her hand in marriage and in exchange would give her father 60 cows.

In South Sudan, child marriage continues to affect thousands of girls hence undermining their survival, development prospects and participation in other developmental activities. The 2010 SHHS indicates that about 40 percent of girls are married when they are still children. 

Early marriage is also one of the main reasons, why there are very few girls who complete primary school – 6.2 percent. 

Mary sighs heavily as she begins to tell her story “Some of my uncles were trying to force me to marry,” says Mary with a look of dissent. “They even would come and search for me in the house and try to talk and convince me.” Mary says her uncles were persistent in trying to convince her father that they should at least go and see the cows.

Fortunately for Mary, her father gave her a choice and she said no to early marriage. “I told them no, I would like to stay in school,” says Mary with a firm voice. “My uncles were very pushy, but I told them why did you send me to school if you want to remove me before I complete my schooling?” Mary says that her father had to remove her from the house and send her to live with another family member to seek refuge from her forceful uncles. “It took about a month for my uncles to leave me alone, but the man says he is still waiting for me.”

Mary says she refused because she wanted to finish school. “How can I abandon my education and settle with a cattle keeper?” questioned Mary. “I want to study hard and become a nurse one day.”

A friend of Mary’s, Yar Nyikok, 17 from the same school says her decision not to get married was simple, “Child marriage is not good. When you marry earlier, you cannot complete your school. I’ve seen some friends and family members who married young and some of them have resulted in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks for them”.

Matanggai is a school that is championing the fight against early marriage in Lakes State through their child clubs which also promote other health behaviours such as hygiene and sanitation.

“I’m proud of the work our child club is doing but would like to coordinate with the local government to inform the public about certain laws like the South Sudan Child Act of 2008, where Child marriage is mentioned,” said Arop Majok, head teacher at Matanggai Primary School.

With support from UNICEF and partners, the Ministry of Social Development is developing and strengthening various structures to reduce the practice of child marriage and accelerate girls’ enrolment and retention. Lakes State will be the first to implement the Communication Strategy for the Prevention of Child Marriage in South Sudan.

“Preventing Child Marriage will protect girls’ rights and help reduce their risks of violence, early pregnancy, HIV infection, and maternal death and disability,” said Joyce Mutiso, Programme Specialist, UNICEF Greater Bahr al Gazal region. “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”.



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