Poverty pushing up forced child marriage in South Sudan
South Sudan's constitution sets the legal marital age at 18, but the country has for long grappled with high rates of early and forced marriages.
According to the UN children's agency, South Sudan has the seventh-highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world. About 52 percent of girls in the country are married before their 18th birthday and nine percent marry before clocking 15 years.
Odongtila Hillary Amoko, education director of Pageri County in Torit State said despite efforts by government and aid organizations to counter child marriage, the practice is still rampant in the area.
Hilary said his office registered 11 cases of child marriage in the past year alone, with many of them being forced marriage.
"I myself have witnessed a lot of early and forced marriages and still it is going forward because we parents and the stakeholders do not want to enforce our laws," Amoko told Xinhua.
He cited a recent case where a 12-year-old schoolgirl was forced to wed an elderly person, even after local authorities unsuccessfully tried to block the union.
"We who are responsible and in authority are making it difficult to end child marriage. It is our responsibility to take action otherwise it is going on very fast and our girls will continue to drop out," he added.
Gender and child rights activists attribute the high prevalence of child marriage to poverty exacerbated by more than five years of civil war in the east African country.
"Many poor families marry off girls to receive dowry and men with many wives and children simply force their daughters into marriages to reduce the burden of childcare," said Chandia Joyce Alison, a local gender activist in Nimule town.
"Financial crisis is one main issue that is sending girls for early marriages because parents have the perception that if the girls are married by rich persons, they will get money and get well," Alison said.
"Polygamy is also an issue because given the crisis, a father who is having ten or eleven kids and not having anything to send the kids to school, has only option to send the child for marriage to get dowry and reduce the burden of catering for children also," she said.
"Men really need awareness because they are the ones sending girls for marriages. So there is a need to increase awareness and also change the culture promoting child marriage," Alison added.
Speaking during an event marking the International Day of the Girl Child, Taban Christopher, head of charity organization, Plan International Field Office in Nimule also agreed poverty is pushing up child marriage in South Sudan.
"There are few people who have the economic strength to take their children to school. So the issues of poverty bring a very strong ground for early child marriage," Christopher said.
"This is correlated to what we have, polygamous families. There are people who have two or three wives. So you discover that having produced many children because you have so many wives, is difficult to sustain and this brings a very strong component leading to child marriage," he added.
The International Day of the Girl which is marked every Oct. 11 aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls are facing. (Xinhua)