South Sudan’s government pledged to end child marriage by 2030 in accordance with the African Union’s campaign to end child marriages in the continent.
South Sudan is one of 40 countries in the world with the highest rates of child marriages.
52% of all girls in South Sudan are married before 18 years of age, depriving them of their basic rights and for some, even their lives.
Child marriage can be damaging to girls’ education, development and ultimately their futures. South Sudan’s gender ministry says only 6.2% of girls in South Sudan complete primary school, with 1 out of 5 dropping out of secondary school due to 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,” UNICEF said.
The coronavirus pandemic contributed to the increasing rate of child marriages.
“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,” 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.