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Four million girls forced into marriage in Sudan

Catholic clerics in South Sudan have raised alarms over forced child marriages. The convention destroys the potential of higher education of young girls and denies them any prospect for the future.

Bishop Mathew Remijio Adam and other Catholic ecclesiastics criticized fathers for privileging dowries of cows and other gifts over the education and welfare of their children after an uncle forced his 14-year-old niece, Akech, into marrying a man four times her age. “Girls are born so that people can eat. All I want is to get my dowry,” he told the girl when she tried to resist. The older man paid 75 cows as dowry for Akech, which signified that the marriage had been sealed.

According to Human Rights Watch, “She tried to resist, but her male cousins beat her severely, accused her of dishonouring her family, and forced her to go to the man’s house. Akech would eventually be imprisoned for trying to escape and then forced to return to her husband. She had no other choice but to stay, her dreams of becoming a teacher shattered.”

Bishop Adam said, “As Church leaders, we are not happy with fathers because our girls are disappearing from school every year because of forced marriage or pregnancy. Look at the efforts that their mothers are doing; they cultivate and build a house in order to support their daughters in studies, and you are destroying them”. He emphasized the importance of educating children of both sexes “for a better and equal society because marrying them at an early age or before finishing their studies destroys their future.”

The Bishop of the Torit diocese, Emmanuel Barnadino Lowi Napeta, insisted that change is desperately needed.

“During my pastoral visits, I heard some elders are forcing their girls to get married while still young because of cows,” he said. “I want our elders to denounce these issues of forced and early marriages because it stops the girls from getting the education they want…This old mentality needs to be challenged to allow the girls to get quality education. If you have one girl and a boy educated, they can change society. The water we are carrying will come to you through the pipe, even roads will be okay and education speaks the future. Education makes the impossible possible … Without education, I would not have seen the pope. I just want to encourage you who have not joined school to do so, and those in school not to get discouraged.”

Even though the Convention on the Rights of the Child – which was signed in 2015 in South Sudan – sets the minimum age for marriage at 18, communities struggling with hunger and poverty do not comply and violate human rights repeatedly.

The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) released a study that reports that “more than 10 girls are forced into marriage every week in South Sudan, and over 50 per cent of all girls in the country are married before the age of 18. Eight per cent of child brides become pregnant before reaching adulthood, and that refusal to get forcibly married could result in abuse, exclusion from society, and even imprisonment.”

The Humanitarian Response Plan of the United Nations for South Sudan specifies that 4 million girls were affected by early or forced marriage in 2022, an increase from 2.7 million in 2021.


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