Target: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit
Goal: Enforce existing laws that prohibit child marriage, and enact substantive reform that will inhibit the further spread of these human rights violations
South Sudanese women are faced with a myriad of extreme hardships in their everyday lives: high rates of poverty, low levels of literacy, a large gender gap in education, and the highest maternal mortality rate in the world—an estimated 2,054 deaths per 100,000 births. But the prevalence of child marriage has only exacerbated the spread and problematic nature of the aforementioned human rights issues.
Unfortunately, child marriage has become all too common throughout the South Sudan region. According to the 2006 Sudan Household Survey, nearly half (48%) of all South Sudanese girls—aged fifteen to nineteen—are married. In many instances, child marriage is the only viable way for families to acquire the most basic of needs. Through the traditional practice of dowries—in which the groom transfers wealth to the bride’s family in the form of gifts—South Sudanese families are able to acquire much-needed capital that is essential for their survival. Families often protect their ‘investments’ by marrying their daughters off early, as to decrease chances of un-planned pregnancies or pre-marital sex. And for many of these girls, marriage offers the only real solution to a lifetime of poverty and malnourishment.
Child marriage presents long lasting physical and emotional challenges for thousands of South Sudanese women. Because they’re married at such a young age, these young girls do not have the opportunity to receive a basic education. As a result, these women are often unable to provide for themselves or their children. Younger women also face significantly greater health risks in pregnancy and childbirth than older women. As reproductive health studies have demonstrated, because of young girls’ smaller pelvises and immature bodies, they are often more prone to instances of life-threatening obstructed labor. Furthermore, child marriage inhibits mobility, the development of knowledge and skills, and the growth of social support networks. These peripheral results often lead to a lifetime’s worth of abuse and mistreatment.
Although provisions of South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution guarantee women and young girls the right to consent to marriage, it is often ignored and left unenforced. There are other laws like the aforementioned, but they too are simply gone unnoticed by government officials. Statutes in South Sudan’s penal code, for instance, criminalize “kidnapping or abducting a woman to compel her to get married”. Also, the 2008 Child Act guarantees protection to children who are under eighteen from forced marriage. Gaps in existing law, an unwillingness to enact more reform, and the ineptness of local bureaucracies and other government agencies have led to fundamental inaction.
South Sudan’s government must recognize the widespread and rampant human rights abuses that are crippling the lives of its women and children. There must be enforcement of existing law, a willingness to enact substantive reform, and recognition of the gravity of this horrific problem.
Dear Salva Kiir Mayardit,
I’m writing you today to express concern over the widespread and rampant instances of child marriage occurring throughout South Sudan.
It is estimated that nearly half of all South Sudanese girls aged fifteen to nineteen are married. Many young girls are taken against their will and kidnapped by their would-be husbands. They are consequently deprived of an adequate education, a social support system, and the ability to provide a more meaningful life for both themselves and their children.
Although there are laws in your country—like the 2008 Child Act, for instance—that guarantee fundamental human rights to South Sudanese women and children, these laws are largely left unenforced and ignored. South Sudan must address gaps in laws prohibiting child marriage, step up enforcement of existing laws, and seek further reform.
Please stop the torment and abuse of young South Sudanese girls. These human rights abuses must come to an end.
[Your Name Here]
photo credit: United Nations Photo via flickr