FORCED CHILD MARRIAGES, A REALITY IN SOUTH SUDAN
By: Tony Manyangadze
Imagine being as young as 12 years old, not attending school, but married and expecting a baby.
This is not an imaginary matter, but a reality to nearly half of South Sudan girls aged between 15 and 19 years who wish to be in school but instead, are forced into marriage by their families.
A report released by the Human Rights Watch entitled, This Old Man Can Feed Us, Marry Him: Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan revealed that young girls in South Sudan are not entitled to most basic human rights, chief amongst them the right to education ,the right for children to express their views and also the right to health.
The report established that South Sudan government statistics for 2011 show that only 39 percent of primary school students and 30 percent of secondary students are female. They are aware of these scary figures of young girls who are supposed to be in school and are not attending. But there is little that they can do to rectify this as the practice is deeply rooted in their culture.
“From what we see in schools, drop-out rates due to marriage and pregnancy are very high,” a representative of the Ministry of Education said.
It appears a huge chunk of the country’s society sees girls as a commodity rather than a child that needs care and education. According to the report, most parents in South Sudan are of the view that schools will ‘expose girls to risks of premarital sex and pregnancy that would decrease their chances of getting married or fetching a high dowry upon marriage’. As a result, they opt to rather make them stay at home until they get married.
What the community of South Sudan is not aware of are the impacts of denying education to girls who, because of lack of education, become economically handicapped and are therefore unable to generate income to take care of their children.
This failure to combat child marriage is also likely to have serious implications for the future development of South Sudan, Human Rights Watch said.
“My father refused me to go to school. He said it is a waste of money to educate a girl. He said marriage will bring me respect in the community. Now I have grown up and I know that this is not true. I cannot get work to support my children and I see girls who have some education can get jobs,” recalled and regretted Mary K, a victim of forced marriage quoted in the report.
To the girls’ families, it’s all about the dowry and nothing else and even the culture is, apparently, in favour of the family to marry a girl without her consent.
“The girl is the property of the family, so when she is old enough and a man comes with dowry, the family gives him the girl…If she refuses, we will beat her and force her to get married so that we can get the dowry,” said Chief Kaelys Chol Arik in the report.