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

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends 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.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs