Treating young girls as commodities must stop

By Jale Richard

The Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare (MOGCSW) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has demanded an end to child marriage in the country.

In a joint statement issued yesterday, the ministry and the UN Population Fund are calling on all sectors to act together to bring an end to child marriage and hold accountable all who participate in perpetuating the harmful practice.

“Treating young girls as commodities that will bring fortunes to families must stop and all parties who perpetuate this practice must be held accountable for their actions – the parents who marry off their minor children, the men who marry the children, and even authorities and law enforcers who knowingly allow this practice to take place and choose not to take action,” the statement said.

The statement comes after a 17-year-old girl known as Nyalong Jalang Ngong Deng who wedded business tycoon Kok Alat last month was reportedly auctioned, a move which angered many human rights and girl child activists.

A group of women lawyers-the National Alliance of Women Lawyers (NAWL) then last month petitioned the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (TNLA) against child marriage.

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.

In June this year, the MOGCSW, together with the Ministry of Health and UNFPA launched the Strategic National Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Sudan.

The action plan includes legal reform and enforcement; ensuring access to quality education, and sexual and reproductive health information and services; and promoting girls’ empowerment.

“As we observe the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, it is a timely reminder that child marriage is a gross violation of human rights that has life-long consequences for a young girl,” the joint statement added.

Despite a number of national and international agreements that call for the elimination of child marriage, the practice remains prevalent in South Sudan with 4 out of 10 girls married off before the age of 18. The international agreements include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also addresses the issue of child marriage under Goal 5, that aims to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” in all circumstances.

The two agencies said consequences of early marriage include girls dropping out of school and becoming pregnant while still adolescents, which increase their risk of complications during pregnancy and/or childbirth that could lead to death. The girls may also be exposed to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, especially in polygamous marriages. Most importantly, child marriage denies girls the right to choose whom and when to marry – one of the most important decisions in life.

Development partners in South Sudan have also been called on to pool resources in whatever form to support the full implementation of the costed national action plan.

“Respect for the dignity of women and girls are paramount to achieving genuine peace and realizing national development for South Sudan. This can be achieved, starting with ending this harmful practice of child marriage,” the statement said.



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