Child marriage is a violation of human rights that impacts girls into adulthood and extends to…
What is the prevalence rate of Child Marriages In South Sudan?
What causes Child Marriages in South Sudan
Exacerbating drivers of child marriage in South Sudan include:
- Prolonged Armed Conflict that leads to displacement and orphan hood and promotes sexual gender-based violence against women and girls
- 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 need humanitarian assistance and nearly 1.5 million people remain internally displaced. Because of displacement which separates families, unaccompanied adolescent girls separated from their parents have been forced to get married especially to gain acceptance and integrate into the host communities.
- 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
- Many girls and women have been forced into marriage and prostitution during South Sudan’s conflict as a means of survival.
- Cases of rape and defilement greatly increased during the conflict, which rebel and armed groups used as part of their warfare. In many instances’ girls raped or impregnated under these conditions have been forced to marry the perpetrators who are expected to pay bride price.
- In addition, the conflict has resulted into death of parents leaving girls at the mercy of surviving relatives who force them to marry to rid themselves of an extra burden.
- According to the MICS 2010 and illustrated in chart 1 above, girls aged 20-24 years from the richest households in South Sudan have only a 6% less chance (47%) of getting married before 18 years than those from the poorest households (53%).
- In South Sudan, 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). Some girls are “born so that people can eat”
- Harmful traditional practices:
- As the community deems girls as secondary citizens whose role is only to bear children, they are expected to be married off as early as puberty sets in to ensure that they start child bearing in time to have a large family.
- Protection of the family name: parents force their daughters into marriage as children to preserve their virginity and protect them from the shame and low amount of dowry they’ll earn if a girl has pre-marital sex.
- Legal framework limitations and failure of the legal system to persecute perpetrators: South Sudan’s legal system has been weakened by the prolonged conflict therefore enforcement of punitive measures against perpetrators of child marriages doesn’t happen, hence the slow decline of the practices.
Legal instruments against Child Marriages
- 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, of 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”.
- Existence of strong discriminatory customary laws that contradict national laws.
- In July 2019, a court in South Sudan annulled a child marriage which could set a precedence making child marriage illegal.
Regional, continental and national commitments signed by the government to End Child Marriage
- South Sudan has committed to target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Co-sponsorship of 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.
- The 2015 assent 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) 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.
- The 2013 South Sudan signature but pending ratification of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.
- The 2013 signature but pending ratification of 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.
- The signature and commitments made to the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
- The 2019 commitments to zero harmful practices, including child marriageat the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25.
- Current implementation partnership of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative .
- South Sudan is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
What is the government doing to reduce Child Marriages?
- 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.
- African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018.
- 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.
- European Commission, South Sudan, [website], 2020.
- Global Partnership for Education, South Sudan
- Huffington Post, facing famine, girls and women bear the heaviest burden, [website], 2017,
- Human Rights Council, Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, A/HRC/40/69, 2019, p. 6,
- Human Rights Watch, “This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him”, Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan, 2013,
- Human Rights Watch, Child marriage: South Sudan, [website], 2013,
- 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.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014,).
- Ministry of Health and National Bureau of Statistics, South Sudan Household Survey 2010, 2010,
- Nairobi Summit, Improved efficiency and quality of programme planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting, [website], 2019,
- Oxfam, born to be Married. Addressing early and forced marriage in Nyal, South Sudan, 2019,
- Plan International UK, Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from South Sudan, 2018,
- Plan International, Early marriage rates rise due to food crisis, [website], 2017,
- Republic of South Sudan, National Action Plan 2015-2020 on UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security And Related Resolutions, 2015,
- Reuters, South Sudan court rules against marriage of girl, 16, in landmark case, [website], 2019,
- The Guardian, South Sudan’s battle for cattle is forcing schoolgirls to become teenage brides, [website], 2017,
- U.S. Department of State, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, [website], 2019,
- UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, South Sudan, 2016, p.8, p.15,
- UNFPA South Sudan, Statement on ending child marriage in South Sudan by the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and UNFPA, [website], 2018,
- UNICEF and UNFPA, Child Marriage: A Mapping of Programmes and Partners in Twelve Countries in East and Southern Africa, 2018,
- UNICEF global databases 2020, based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), and other national surveys. Population data from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition. Rev. 1.
- United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, South Sudan, Republic of, [website], 2018.
- United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017,