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Juba, South Sudan-- Child marriage hinders girls from exercising their rights and puts their lives and future at risk, says UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, during a national forum on child marriage.

“Child marriage is outright wrong, yet it is deeply entrenched in the culture of the country,” said UNFPA Country Representative Dr. Mary Otieno. “I say ‘outright wrong’ because it puts at stake the very lives and future of South Sudan’s adolescent girls.”

Dr. Otieno emphasized that when a young girl becomes a bride, the consequences are life-long and it affects not just the girl but also her children and the nation. She said the girls are robbed of their youth and required to take on roles for which they are not psychologically or physically prepared.

“The price that these adolescents pay includes costs for losses in personal development, health, education, employment, entrepreneurship, participation in national development and democratic processes, to mention a few,” Dr. Otieno said during a forum on child marriage, which was organized by the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and the NGO Crown the Woman, with support from UNFPA.

Child marriage is one of the harmful practices in many cultures that hinder a girl child from accessing her rights to realize her full potential and be a productive member of her community. Every year, 15 million girls marry before the age of 18. This translates into 41,000 girls per day; 28 girls every minute; and 1 girl every 2 seconds. If this trend continues, 142 million girls will be married by their 18th birthday in this decade alone.

In South Sudan, 40 per cent of girls are married before 18. Only 6.2 per cent of girls complete primary school, with 1 out of 5 dropping out of secondary school due to pregnancies, which is exceptionally high at 30 per cent. The situation is exacerbated by the crisis, which has left many people in extreme poverty and with limited alternatives to life. Marrying off a girl child, usually to a much older man, is therefore seen as a source of income.

“Ending child marriage will require long-term, sustainable action across many different sectors,” Dr. Otieno said. “A robust legal and policy framework for preventing child marriage and supporting married girls should be the cornerstone of government efforts to address the practice, including change of beliefs and behaviours as we realize the hazards and indignity of such a harmful practice.”

Dr. Otieno underscored the importance of employing a girl-centered approach in eliminating child marriage. “I do believe in the saying that goes, ‘nothing for us without us.’ In this case, nothing for girls without the girls themselves at the negotiation table as we talk about their future.”

“UNFPA is committed to ensuring that the girl child in South Sudan has the opportunity to become a productive citizen contributing to the vison 2040 and the South Sudan we want,” she said.