Pressrelease UNICEF October 2020: On Monday (October 5), a campaign against child marriage was launched in South Sudan. This is happening the same week the world is observing the international day of the girl child, which was created to put the spotlight on challenges girls are facing. In South Sudan, 52 percent of all girls are married before 18 years of age, depriving them of their basic rights and for some, even their lives.
With the slogan; ‘some things are not fit for children – marriage is one of them’, UNICEF is highlighting how child marriage can be damaging to girls’ education, development and ultimately their futures. Child marriage often leads to early pregnancies. About 1/3 of all girls in South Sudan are pregnant before turning 15. Child pregnancies can be life-threatening for the mother as the young bodies are not ready to carry a baby and give birth. Children born by children are more likely to be born prematurely with a low birth weight, predisposing them to lifelong health conditions.
“With the closure of schools, more time spent at home and increased stress due to COVID-19, more girls have been exposed to increased risks of sexual abuse, child marriage and early pregnancies. This campaign therefore comes at just the right time when we need to protect the girls as never before. I call upon everyone in South Sudan in joining hands in ending child marriage in our country,” said Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare H.E. Ayaa Benjamin Warille.
Child marriage is deeply rooted in gender inequality and harmful social norms. South Sudan is one of the countries with deeply entrenched cultural practices and social norms linked to gender. Child marriage is further fuelled by poverty. Girls are married off early for the family to collect dowry. Low levels of education and lack of knowledge about the harm caused by early marriage further exacerbates the situation.
“Through the campaign launched Monday (October 5), we are sending a clear message that marriage is not for children. It harms children, especially girls, and it must end now,” said Mohamed Ag Ayoya, the UNICEF South Sudan Representative. “One way of ending it is to adopt and enforce that no girl is married before she reaches the minimum age of 18 years.”
The Rights Of The Child
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which is ratified by South Sudan clearly states that children have the right to protection from harm, including child marriage. UNICEF is urging everyone, community influencers in particular, to take advantage of the increased focus on child marriage in the coming week to speak up.
“We all have a critical role to play in ending child marriage, especially men who are often the head of households,” said Ayoya. “As men, we need to double our efforts and protect girls. How can we have a prosperous South Sudan if half of the population is left behind?”
UNICEF is working with the Government of South Sudan to implement the National Strategic Action Plan (2017-2030) to end child marriage by 2030. Together with its partners, UNICEF is promoting positive social norms through community survey, broadcasts, education and community dialogues. The commitment from religious and community leaders is an essential part of ending the harmful practice in South Sudan.
Image: Jessica Lea