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South Sudan

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
9%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
52%
International Ranking*

8

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Photo credit: Human Rights Watch

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
9%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
52%
International Ranking*

8

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

The most recent available data from 2010 shows that 52% of girls in South Sudan are married before their 18th birthday and 9% are married before the age of 15.

South Sudan has the eighth highest prevalence of child marriage globally.

Pre-conflict child marriage rates do not vary significantly among girls of different education levels, wealth indexes or rural or urban locality. Current rates could be higher due to ongoing conflict, displacement and food shortages. All of South Sudan is considered a high-risk area for child marriage by UNFPA and UNICEF.

Oxfam estimated in 2019 that in the town of Nyal, an area that has bordered some of the most brutal fighting in South Sudan’s conflict, 71% of girls are married before the age of 18.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. While gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage in both stable and crisis contexts, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with greater economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. Since 2013, conflict in South Sudan have caused mass displacement among civilians. Although the security situation improved in 2019, it remains volatile. 7.5 million South Sudanese are in need of humanitarian assistance and nearly 1.5 million people remain internally displaced.

Rates of child marriage were already high before the conflict began, but high levels of instability, economic decline, erosion of services and malnutrition may have contributed to increase child marriage in South Sudan. Exacerbating drivers of child marriage in South Sudan include:

  • Poverty: Child marriage is used as a coping mechanism in response to economic and food insecurity. Many poorer families marry off daughters in order to receive dowry (payments in the form of money, gifts or cattle, from future husbands). Due to instability, cattle raiding has become more common in South Sudan and some families are unable to feed their children. Cattle is used as a currency in marriage transactions and many teenage girls are forced into marriage so their families can receive cows and survive. Some girls are “born so that people can eat”.
  • Armed conflict: Many girls and women have been forced into marriage and prostitution during South Sudan’s conflict in order to survive. Girls and women with disabilities are at particular risk.
  • Displacement and orphanhood: Among refugees and internally displaced people, orphan, separated and unaccompanied adolescent girls are at increased risk of child marriage. Extended family members often identify marriage as the only solution for an adolescent girl who is separated from her primary caregivers. Child marriage has also been reported as a way to integrate into the host communities.
  • Sexual violence against women and girls: The UN Human Rights Council has qualified sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriage, as a central characteristic of the conflict, used as a tactic of warfare by all parties to spread terror. Misconceptions about the physical protection offered by marriage has led to an increase in early and forced marriages. In addition, according to customary laws, in the case of rape of an unmarried girl, she may be forced to marry the perpetrator, who is expected to pay a bride price to her family.
  • Gender norms:Community expectations are widespread that girls should be married as they reach puberty and start childbearing early in order to maximise the number of children a woman will have over her lifetime. Discriminatory attitudes deem women and girls as “second class citizens” with specific roles as wives and mothers.
  • Family honour: Some families marry off their daughters in order to shield them from pre-marital sex, which brings shame to families and lowers the amount of dowry girls can fetch when married.
  • Weak legal frameworks: South Sudan lacks a strong legal framework and existing laws are poorly enforced. Perpetrators are able to continue forcing children into marriages with no repercussions.

What has this country committed to?

South Sudan has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

South Sudan co-sponsored the 2013, 2014 and 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, South Sudan signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.

South Sudan acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2015, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2015, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

During its 2016 Universal Periodic Review, South Sudan supported recommendations to strengthen efforts to eradicate child marriage. The government highlighted that it is particularly difficult to combat child marriage and prevent girls from dropping out of school in states such as the Upper Nile, where most schools had been destroyed and were yet to be rebuilt.

In 2013 South Sudan signed, but has not yet ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.

In 2013 South Sudan signed, but has not yet ratified, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.

South Sudan is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.

In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, the government of South Sudan committed to the goal of zero harmful practices, including child marriage by ensuring that, by end 2020, all states have declared and put in place mechanisms to end child marriage, and by working with civil society organisations.

South Sudan is one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.

South Sudan is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

The Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare led the development of a Strategic National Action Plan (SNAP) (2017-2030) to End Child Marriage in South Sudan. The development of the action plan was spearheaded by a National Task Force to End Child Marriage, and the National Gender-Based Violence Sub-Cluster and the Child Protection Sub-Cluster, with technical and financial support from UNICEF and UNFPA. The development process also involved the Ministry of Health, Ministry of General Education and Instruction, and the Ministry of Justice, and many non-governmental stakeholders. However there is currently a lack of government leadership to implement the action plan.

The National Action Plan 2015-2020 on UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and Related Resolutions include strategic objectives to enact and implement laws to eliminate violence against women and girls, including child marriage.

The National Girls’ Education Strategy (2018-2022) aims to address the major obstacles to girls’ education.

Special protection units have also been established at a number of police stations to enable women and girls to report cases of gender-based violence.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

The legal framework around the minimum age of marriage is not clear in South Sudan. The 2008 Child Act defines “child” as someone under the age of eighteen years and includes provisions designed to protect children from being forced into marriage. The Transitional Constitution, which came into force at its independence in 2011, guarantees women the right to consent to marriage, and penal code provisions criminalise “kidnapping or abducting a woman to compel her to get married”.

Different ethnic groups have customary laws that may contradict national laws and that often discriminate against women.

In July 2019, a court in South Sudan annulled a child marriage. This could, according to activists, set a precedent for other girls in the country to make illegal marriages entered into at a young age.

Source

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, https://www.achpr.org/legalinstruments/detail?id=46 (accessed January 2020).

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018, https://au.int/en/treaties/protocol-african-charter-human-and-peoples-rights-rights-women-africa (accessed January 2020).

European Commission, South Sudan, [website], 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/echo/where/africa/south-sudan_en (accessed January 2020).

Global Partnership for Education, South Sudan, [website], https://www.globalpartnership.org/where-we-work/south-sudan (accessed February 2020).

Huffington Post, Facing famine, girls and women bear the heaviest burden, [website], 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/facing-famine-girls-and-women-bear-the-heaviest-burden_us_59838dc1e4b00833d1de26af (accessed January 2020).

Human Rights Council, Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, A/HRC/40/69, 2019, p. 6, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoHSouthSudan/Pages/Index.aspx (accessed January 2020).

Human Rights Watch, “This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him”, Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/03/07/old-man-can-feed-us-you-will-marry-him/child-and-forced-marriage-south-sudan (accessed January 2020).

Human Rights Watch, Child marriage: South Sudan, [website], 2013, https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2013/03/04/child-marriage-south-sudan (accessed January 2020).

Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern African, (ESA), [website], 2014, https://www.youngpeopletoday.org/esa-commitment/ (accessed January 2020).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, http://fngeneve.um.dk/en/aboutus/statements/newsdisplaypage/?newsid=6371ad93-8fb0-4c35-b186-820fa996d379 (accessed January 2020).

Ministry of Health and National Bureau of Statistics, South Sudan Household Survey 2010, 2010, https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2588 (accessed February 2020). 

Nairobi Summit, Improved efficiency and quality of programme planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting, [website], 2019, http://www.nairobisummiticpd.org/commitment/improved-efficiency-and-quality-programme-planning-implementation-monitoring-and-1 (accessed January 2020).

Oxfam, Born to be Married. Addressing early and forced marriage in Nyal, South Sudan, 2019, https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/620620/rr-born-to-be-married-efm-south-sudan-180219-en.pdf (accessed February 2020).

Plan International UK, Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from South Sudan, 2018, https://plan-uk.org/file/plan-uk-voices-from-south-sudan-reportpdf/download?token=D7xsjaUV (accessed January 2020). 

Plan International, Early marriage rates rise due to food crisis, [website], 2017, https://plan-international.org/food-crisis-increases-child-marriage-risk (accessed February 2020). 

Republic of South Sudan, National Action Plan 2015-2020 on UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace And Security And Related Resolutions, 2015, https://www.ss.undp.org/content/dam/southsudan/library/Reports/southsudanotherdocuments/SS%20NAP%201325.pdf (accessed January 2020).

Reuters, South Sudan court rules against marriage of girl, 16, in landmark case, [website], 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southsudan-women-court/south-sudan-court-rules-against-marriage-of-girl-16-in-landmark-case-idUSKCN1U42CK (accessed January 2020).

The Guardian, South Sudan’s battle for cattle is forcing schoolgirls to become teenage brides,[website], 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jun/08/south-sudan-battle-for-cattle-is-forcing-schoolgirls-to-become-teenage-brides (accessed January 2020).

U.S. Department of State, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, [website], 2019, https://www.state.gov/where-we-work-pepfar/ (accessed January 2020).

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* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)