END CHILD, FORCED MARRIAGES AND TEENAGE PREGNANCIES
By Otwari Dominic Oromo
Child marriage is a global problem affecting disproportionately millions of girls across the world.It is considered a human rights violation because it deprives those involved of education and health services, the chance to learn skills and develop their personalities and leaves them vulnerable. It is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,” says Babatunde Osotimehin, M.D, Executive Director (UNFPA).
The legal age of marriage in South Sudan is 18, According tothe Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) “One way of ending it is to adopt and enforce that no girl is married before she reaches the minimum age of 18 years andchildren have the right to protection from harm, including child marriage.” which was also endorsed by South Sudan state government, but in reality the law seems a myth as its often disregarded in some urban communities the rate is even higher in rural communities, and has increased due to closure of schools, thisexposed girls to increased risks of sexual abuse, child marriage and teenage pregnancies since the year 2020 triggered by the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic as 52 per cent of the girls are married before their 18th birthday and hypothetically, about 1/3 of all girls in South Sudan are pregnant before turning 15thus depriving them of their basic rights and for some, even their lives.
In communities in South Sudan where child marriage is predominant, there is strong social pressure on families to conform especially in periods when the age bracket of girls set for marriage have gotten engaged. Failure to conform can often result into mockery, disapproval or family shame. Invariably, local perceptions on the ideal age for marriage, the desire for compliant wives, extended family patterns and other customary requirements, are all enshrined in local customs or religious norms. In many contexts child marriage is legitimized by patriarchy, and related family structures, which ensure that marriage transfers a father’s role over his girl child to her future spouse. The marriage or betrothal of children in some parts of South Sudan is valued as a means of amalgamating powerful relations between families, for sealing deals over land or other property, or even for settling disputes like compensating the deceased family with a girl child just in case the relative or the brother commits murder.
Child marriages and teenage pregnancies halts the visions of many girls yet it’s said educating a girl child is building the nation. It’s tends to preclude further education and reinforce poverty and economic status of girls.How can one aspire to be a teacher, an accountant, engineer, nurse or successful business owner when they dropped out of school at 15? They lack the skills needed for meaningful employment yet they do not own resources like land and money to become self-employed.
Child brides and teenage mothers are less able to access schooling and income-generating opportunities or to benefit from education or economic development programs. Girls already in school are often forced to terminate their education when they marry early to attend to their family obligations, household responsibilities as housewives, raising children and other social restrictions for married girls prevent them from taking advantage of education or work opportunities.
Girls who are married young often lack status and power within their marriages and households, and so are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual abuse, and isolation from family and community. They are forced to submit and endure the pain inflicted on them by their husbands because of the high bride price consumed by the parents and relatives this makes girls to be assets of income generation as their rights are robbed.
The government and civil society organizations and Non-government organizations need to adopt awareness programson issues of early and forced child marriages through local radio stations across the country since majority of rural communities use the radio as the main media source. This should be done in the local dialect of the 64 tribes in South Sudan where everyone easily understands the disseminated information and also contributes towards the debate.
Government needs to do more to keep girls in school, even when they get children or get married, girls need an education. There should be more investment in vocational training so that girls can start businesses and get jobs. A girl or boy who is protected from child marriage is more likely to stay in school, work and reinvest income into their family, and help lead their family and community out of poverty.