News / Africa

Long, Hard Road to End South Sudan Child Marriage

Sixteen-year-old Akuot, shown here in Bor, Jonglei state, in Feburary 2013, was beaten for three days after she refused to be married off in exchange for a dowry of cattle. (Courtesy photo/Brent Stirton/Reportage for Human Rights Watch)
Sixteen-year-old Akuot, shown here in Bor, Jonglei state, in Feburary 2013, was beaten for three days after she refused to be married off in exchange for a dowry of cattle. (Courtesy photo/Brent Stirton/Reportage for Human Rights Watch)
Manyang David Mayar
Forced marriage destroys the dreams and sometimes costs the lives of South Sudanese girls, but ending the deeply engrained tradition in the world's newest nation will be a difficult and slow process, rights advocates say.

“The girl is our source of income," said John Akuok, an elderly man from Bor, the capital city of Jonglei state, who supports forced marriage.
When a man comes, we give the girl to him and he gives us wealth. If the girl refuses to be married, we beat her...

"When a man comes, we give the girl to him and he gives us wealth. If the girl refuses to be married, we beat her to accept to marry him so that he can give us dowries,” Akuok said.

Child marriage is seen by many South Sudanese as "being in the best interests of girls and their families, and an important way for families to access much-needed resources, such as cattle, money, and other gifts via the traditional practice of transferring wealth through the payment of dowries," a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch says.

A majority of South Sudanese live from farming and cattle-rearing, but during the long civil war, many lost their farming livelihoods.

"So the only source of income for them is that if they have children, if they have girls," Biel Jock Thich, Deputy Chairperson of South Sudan Human Rights Commission, is quoted as saying in the report.

"In some communities, women are married for 300 cows. That’s a lot of wealth that you get, maybe, from your daughter."

Changing the way South Sudanese view their daughters is a key step toward ending  child marriage, said Thich. But it's hard to get South Sudanese to understand that "if you let your daughter go to school, she will have a value more" than several hundred head of cattle or a one-off payment.

"It is a challenge for (South Sudanese) to understand that, at this point. They don’t see... the value replacement that will come after the girl finishes university... To explain it to them, is a challenge," said Thich.

Human Rights Watch's Gauri van Gulik said that even though "child marriage doesnt end overnight, it is absolutely possible to end it in the longer term.

"To achieve that, we have to act now," she added.

Liesl Gerntholz, head of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said that an effort has to be made to change the view of South Sudanese toward their daughters and bride-payments, or dowries.

"Dowry... really is important in sort of driving child marriage and it’s part of the negotiation. So, I think regulating dowry and the payment of dowry is going to be an important way also of beginning to... eradicate child marriage, " she said.

For some girls, early marriage is an escape from violence in the home, the Human Rights Watch report says. But more often than not, forced marriage marks the beginning of abuse.

"Girls often face violence once they are married and there’s a lot of research, not just our research, that’s shows that younger girls are much more vulnerable to domestic violence than older girls," said Gerntholz.

Van Gulik called on the government of South Sudan to take the lead in changing long-held traditions to end child marriage, and to do more to protect women and girls, many of whose lives are a constant struggle against violence.

"Human Rights Watch has made long term recommendations to end child marriage, but right now, immediately, the government of South Sudan has to protect girls from violence and increase access to healthcare and education for girls," she said.

"The government has a certain number of responsibilities, regardless of different local practices," van Gulik said.

The Human Rights Watch report, titled “This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him: Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan,” is based on interviews with more than 80 girls and women in Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria, and Jonglei states. The name of the report is a quote from one of the interviews.
 
The report recommends that the South Sudanese government set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and provide training to public officials to protect girls from forced marriage.

It also calls for a stepped-up effort to educate South Sudanese on the impact of child marriage on girls and the country as a whole, and calls for legislation on marriage, separation and divorce.

According to statistics from South Sudan’s Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, nearly half of South Sudanese girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, many of them against their will. Girls as young as 12 are married off sometimes, in exchange for a dowry.

Girls like Akuot B., whose full name was not given, are beaten when they refuse to go along with a forced marriage. Girls have even been killed after defying their parents' wishes to marry older men whom they don't know.

The Human Rights Watch report tells the story of a 16-year-old girl who was studying in Lakes state when she was told by her father that she was to marry an old man who offered a dowry of 200 cows to the family.

"The girl refused and said, 'I don’t know this man. I have never spoken to him, and he is not my age,'" the report says.

She was taken to a forest, tied to a tree and beaten until she died.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More