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Child Marriage Persists in South Sudan: Minister

FILE - Eliza, 17, who at age 13 was forced by her father to marry a 35-year-old man from their village in exchange for 50 cattle, stands next to crops in a courtyard in the town of Rumbek, South Sudan, July 30, 2017.

South Sudan's minister of gender, child and social welfare said this week that child marriage remains a "major problem" in the country and urged chiefs to help protect young girls from early marriage and other harmful practices.

Minister Aya Benjamin Warille met with chiefs from the country’s 10 states and three administrative areas in Juba to check on the progress made in implementing a national action plan to end child marriages.

"Very few girls continue to secondary schools after completing their primary education. Now the figures I have here is that only 30% of girls complete primary schools, with one out of five dropping out of secondary school due to pregnancies," said Warille adding, "Child marriage is a major problem in our country, South Sudan."

Warille stressed that early marriage is a violation of children’s rights.

"According to the 2010 household survey, 7% of women aged between 15 to 49 years were married before age 15 and 45% of women aged between 20 and 49 were married before age 18, while teenage pregnancies and adolescent birth rate is still high and stands at 300 out of every 1000 live births," she said.

Warille said South Sudan is among the countries with the highest number of child marriages.

An evidence-based report conducted in 2015 by the general education and instruction ministry found that 6% of school dropouts among South Sudanese girls is due to child marriage, according to Warille.

The Norwegian Ambassador to South Sudan Linken Berryman said early marriage deprives young girls of their childhood and affects them their entire life.

"The arguments against child marriage are convincing, and there are many. As a practice it violates fundamental human rights, it seriously impedes literacy and is a major cause of persisting poverty. It is a contributing factor to why only 10% of girls in South Sudan finish primary school," said Berryman, speaking to the conference of chiefs.

A representative for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in South Sudan, Kidane Abraha, said some states have implemented the action plan to end child marriages.

"The year 2022 has been a promising one. We have seen Lakes State pass a law banning child marriage, and we also saw several states where customary laws were passed or under preparations for putting under legislative assemblies to ban child marriage," Abraha said.

Some chiefs have begun to educate their counterparts from other villages on how to address early child marriage in their areas, one chief said.

"A girl was married at the age of above 18 in those years before the war. But after the war behavior change have come; all this practices and bad behaviors in the communities are the things we talk about," said Michael Piol Ngor, the paramount chief of Northern Bhar el-Ghazal State.