Almost half of South Sudanese girls between ages 15 and 19 are married, some as young as age 12. An egregious violation of women and girls’ human rights, child marriage in South Sudan exacerbates the country’s high levels of poverty, low levels of literacy, pronounced gender gaps in education, and soaring rates of maternal mortality—currently among the highest in the world.
Many families in South Sudan see child marriage as a means of accessing cattle, money, and other gifts by transferring wealth through the traditional payment of dowries. The practice of child marriage negatively shapes the experiences, status, and security of South Sudanese women and girls; violates their right to health, education, physical integrity, and to marry with free consent; and limits their progress and capacity to participate in all spheres of life.
If the government, assisted by its development partners, does not combat child marriage it could have serious implications for South Sudan’s future development. Strong measures are needed to ensure protection for victims of child marriage and their access to effective support services, the development and implementation of guidelines for a coordinated government response, and comprehensive reform of South Sudanese marriage laws so that gender equality is a cornerstone of the country’s development agenda.