JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN
— Children are getting involved in the effort to end child marriage in South Sudan, thanks to the efforts of the South Sudan Women's Empowerment Network, an NGO that is visiting schools to educate girls about their rights and give them the courage to speak up for themselves.
The NGO uses drama to teach the children, especially girls, to make their voices heard.
“Sometimes it’s hard for children to talk about issues in their heart. But, through drama, these issues come out," said Helen Animashaun, who works with the NGO.
"For some of these children, it’s their first time having their voices heard,” Animashaun added.
Since the start of the year, the NGO has visited schools in Eastern Equatoria and in Juba County with its drama project.
Part of a worldwide campaign called “Girls, Not Brides”
to fight early marriage, the project has particular resonance in South Sudan, where a recent report from Human Rights Watch found girls as young as 12 years old are being married off -- even though the law prohibits marriage for children under 18 years old.
Viola Koma resisted the advances of a 20-year-old man who, two years ago, wanted her to marry him. Koma was just thirteen at the time.
"I told him, no, I don’t want to get married. If you want to marry me, wait until I grow up and maybe you can go to my people and ask for my hand in marriage,” Koma said.
Other girls are not so lucky.
"I had a friend whose father was poor; they had a brother who was taken to jail. So the father decided that the girl should get married off so that the dowry which is paid could be used for bailing out her brother," Koma explained.
"She told her father, no, I am not getting married, I am not interested in this marriage. If you insist that I should get married, I am going to kill myself. So the father organized everything. He had the dowry paid and then they went and bailed out the brother. Everything was cleared and they said the girl should go. She refused and she committed suicide.”
Human Rights Watch said in a report
released early this month that girls who have the courage to refuse early marriage are in dire need of protection, support and education.
Animashaun wants the South Sudanese authorities to step in to help make clear to South Sudanese that children have rights that are enshrined in law.
Educating children about their rights is not enough: communities and parents must be sensitized as well, she said.