Women NGOs angered by Parliament over Child Marriage remarks
Adhieu Monica reads a petition on behalf of the National Alliance of Women Lawyers on the International Children’s Day at Legislative Assembly.
Aluel Naomi works for Crown the Woman South Sudan
By David Mono Danga
As the world join hands in the fights for the rights of women and girls, South Sudanese, including top government officers continue to violate these rights.
No one dares to hold them accountable due to the weak law implementation institutions.
A group of female lawyers under the umbrella National Alliance of Women Lawyers (NAWL) petitioned the National Transitional Legislative Assembly- TNLA last week against child marriage and the auctioning of young girls for wealth acquisition.
The Deputy Speaker for Administration and Finance in the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA), Dr. Awel Mawin and the Chairperson of the Women Parliamentary Caucus, Dusman Joyce pledged to support the women lawyers in their pursuit for the Girl Child and women’s rights in the country.
However, the First Deputy Speaker, Timothy Tut Chol clearly said child marriage was not the parliament’s top priority claiming there were other major issues that needed the attention of the August House.
He said being a young nation; the women should not expect the government to change things overnight.
“We are a young nation…you don’t expect your government to do things overnight. There are more pressing issues than the issue (Child Marriage and auctioning) we are now discussing today.” Deputy Speaker Tut told journalists and women organizations at the Parliament during presentation of the petition early last week.
“I am not saying it is not important but I am saying there are priorities,” he added as he tried to make the petitioners understand the position of the National Parliament when it comes to clashes with customary laws visor-vie constitutional rights of women and girls in the country.
These remarks by the MP made most of the women rights organizations angry, blaming the August Houses’ for failure to take women rights issues serious.
Crown the Woman’s Aluel Naomi expressed her disappointment citing the authorities’ failure to implement the available laws as a weakness of the lawmakers and enforcers.
“The Parliament has a key role to play. If our Constitution has gaps, we have signed a lot of international treaties that are supposed to protect the rights of women and young girls. These are commitments we have done at the international level, why is it so difficult to implement them?” Ms Aluel queried.
She noted that the issue of “marriageable age” is something the government had known from the time the Transitional Constitution was designed in 2011.
She said leaders sound contradictory when they condemn child marriage and allow traditional customary laws to flourish beneath their watch.
Ms Aluel acknowledged that there is no way the civil society can win the fight against child marriage if the Constitution does not stop relying on the customary laws.
Meanwhile, the Gender Officer for Assistant Mission for Africa, Nyan Chan advised citizens to actively participate in bringing change instead of waiting for change to happen.
“In every community there are people who wait for change to happen and those who take action by being part of the change makers. Change takes time but Sooner or later change will eventually come,” Ms Nyan said.
“It is always good to be part of something that will bring change instead of just waiting for results,” she added.
When asked what she would do if her parents attempted to auction her, Nyan said she would rather run away than to be “traded out like a commodity.”
What the Women lawyers want
Assistance Mission for Africa’s Gender officer Nyan Chan
Victor Abio Moses, National Alliance of Women Lawyers
Ms Aluel said she wished the Parliament would implement the recently launched Strategic National Action Plan to End Child Marriage by 2030.
“I am surprised that the same people who attended the launch are also involved in child marriage. It is not a promising message,” Ms Aluel added.
She said people needed to be held accountable for violating the laws against women and girls rights. “Everything is changing with other aspects of our cultures but why is culture difficult when it comes to issues to do with women?” she wondered.
Adhieu Monica, Executive Director for the National Alliance of Women Lawyers (NAWL) ridiculed the TNLA for saying Child Marriage and auctioning is not a pressing issue that needed immediate attention.
Article 26:1 of the Child Act 2008 condemns child marriage and acknowledges the principle of best interest of the child as well as any practices that may deny the girl child a chance to education. According to Adhieu, these laws, including the international treaties should be implemented to fight the vice.
Victor Abio who also works for the National Women Lawyer’s organization says early child marriage and auctioning devalues the Girl-Child. The provision for marriageable age, she suggested, should be enacted to clearly define the right age to marry and also the right punishment for the violators of the law.
The women organizations had called on the Parliament to pressure for the resignation of David Mayom Riak, the Deputy Governor of Eastern Lakes State who reportedly participated in the auctioning of 17-year-old Nyalong Jalang Ngong Deng who wedded business tycoon Kok Alat earlier this month.
The women lawyers called on the Parliament, Ministry of Gender, Child and Welfare, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to implement the existing laws and international treaties, as well as punish the perpetrators of child marriage to urgently end the vice in the country.
The women organizations also appealed to state authorities, traditional leaders and religious leaders to implement the Strategic Action Plan to end child marriage in the country.
As part of the convention to eliminate all sorts of discrimination against women, Article 16: 1 of the National Policy articulates that state parties are to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women and this is in regards to marriages and family matters to ensure equality of both men and women that grants both genders equal right to marriage at one’s free will and full consent.
South Sudan Women leaders in a group photo with members of parliament after delivering a petition against child marriage on Tuesday 20/ Nov/2018.