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Nearly Half of Teenage Girls in Forced Marriages in South Sudan

Nearly Half of Teenage Girls in Forced Marriages in South Sudan

Nearly half of South Sudanese girls between 15 and 19 years old are married. Some were as young as 12 years old when they were forced to marry men who, in many cases, were far older than them. The Old Man Can Feed Us So You Will Marry Him, a new report from Human Rights Watch, documents these facts and describes the terrible consequences of forced marriage for so many girls in South Sudan.

Friday, March 8 was International Women’s Day; Human Rights Watch’s report was released the day before, to highlight the issue of child marriage. Every year, in countries from Niger to Bangladesh to the Dominican Republic, some 14 million girls are married before their 18th birthday. 11 percent were married before their 15th birthday, while one in three women aged 20-24 was married by the time she was 18.

Forced Marriage Deprives Young Women of Education, Health and More

From interviews with 87 girls and women as well as government officials, health care workers, tribal leaders and many others, the report describes how young girls are forced by their own family members into marriages in order to receive dowry payments or because they were suspected to have had premarital sex. Few girls know they have the right to resist a forced marriage; when they do, they are often subjected to violence at the hands of their relatives:

One girl, Ageer M. told Human Rights Watch, “I refused him but they beat me badly and took me by force to him. The man forced me to have sex with him so I had to stay there.”¯ …

… a 17-year-old girl studying in Lakes State['s] father tried to force her to marry an old man who had offered a dowry of 200 cows to her family. The girl refused and said, “I don’t know this man. I have never spoken to him, and he is not my age.”¯ The girl was taken to a nearby forest, tied to a tree and beaten until she died.

Even if a young woman does not suffer abuse, early forced marriage jeopardizes her health. Young women face greater complications in pregnancy and in childbirth. Due to having smaller pelvises and still-maturing bodies, they can face “life-threatening obstructed labor.”

An early forced marriage also means the end for a young woman’s education. Many of the young women interviewed spoke of how “dreams of continuing school to become accountants, teachers, or doctors were cut short when they married.” Statistics from the South Sudanese government show a bleak scenario: girls comprise only 39 percent of primary school students and 30 percent of secondary students.

As Liesl Gerntholtz, Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights director, says, “Girls who have the courage to refuse early marriages are in dire need of protection, support, and education.” The report recommends that governments — South Sudan’s and those of too many other countries — take action by making 18 the minimum legal age of marriage; passing family legislation on marriage, separation and divorce; and ratifying human rights treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRC).

Even more, governments must develop national plans not only to prevent but also to address the consequences of child marriage. A program in Ethiopia has specifically to sought assist married adolescents and address their health issues and also assist them in gaining economic independence.

“The global problem of child marriage strips women and girls of their livelihoods and creates a high risk of violence,” says Gerntholtz. A girl’s life should not be over while she is still a teenager, if not even younger.

 

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113 comments

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6:55AM PDT on May 25, 2013

By the way, there used to be forced marriage in Europe too. Even in the 19th century, some girls were forced to marry men who were, for example, rich, and the marriage was regarded as profitable.

6:48AM PDT on May 25, 2013

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6:45AM PDT on May 25, 2013

Horrible!

12:50AM PDT on May 24, 2013

this is so so sad

4:06AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

The UN recently took a stand against victimization and abuse of women. Someone needs to make sure this article is sent directly to the UN. The UN is great at saying they endorse women's rights but now it is time for them to prove it. I would personally tweet this to the President of the UN but don't have an address. Someone please make sure the UN is hounded with this story in including the Sudan delegation. Then if that doesn't work we all need to tweet to @edshow @maddowmsnbc @barackobama and everyone else in mass this article to stop this cruelty now.

2:06AM PDT on Mar 20, 2013

We must all join forces and send messages from around the world condemning this practice as barbaric, as is the forced mutilation that comes before the second atrocity.

7:28AM PDT on Mar 19, 2013

That's terrible! No one should be forced to marry. Forced marriages should be banned.

4:21AM PDT on Mar 19, 2013

The wonderful, peaceful, loving, female-respecting religion of Islam strikes again. Yet no mention of this in the article. Political correctness or justified fear of retaliation?

12:10PM PDT on Mar 18, 2013

What we are waiting for? We are responsible for this orrible practice, we can't think that is only a women's problem.

10:35AM PDT on Mar 18, 2013

oh, this is so sad

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