On the 9th of October 2017, a petition to end child marriage was presented to the government of South Sudan by Advocates without Borders, Save the Children’s partner in the petition. Over 100 children, women parliamentarians, civil society organisations, staff and human rights lawyers participated in the petition. With limited up-take of social media in the country, the petition took place offline.
Despite ratifying the UN convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), South Sudan’s legal system has failed to protect children from early marriage. The constitution states that “[…] anyone of a marriageable age has a right to found a family...” but fails to define what that age is.
Around 40% of girls in South Sudan are currently married or in a union, and the country has the 4th highest adolescent marriage rate in the world, succeeded only by Bangladesh, CAR and Niger.
The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (2011) and the Child Act (2008), requires all people to consider the best interests of a child and respect the rights of all children in South Sudan. But, without clarity on the legal age of marriage this can’t happen properly. As a result of this, the petition to end child marriage in the country was launched.
The child marriage petition is the first of its kind in South Sudan, making it a campaign moment for ending child marriage, as well as a call for human rights protection. The petition not only made significant calls to the government [see below], but it also inspired public debate. Talk shows took place as part of the initiative in conjunction with Save the Children’s partner, Advocates without Borders, resulting in increased public engagement and awareness of the negative impact of child marriage.
A roundtable parliamentary public debate was held in November and focused on how to protect girls from child marriage and other harmful practices. Partnering with Advocates without Borders has meant a structured media campaign on the question of marriageable age, which Save the Children helped to enable by lobbying media platforms and engaging women parliamentarians. Our role has been both as facilitator and as strategic leader, making sure the child marriage petition was at the top of every policy maker’s agenda.
Since the presentation of the petition, Save the Children and Advocates without Borders are partnering with UNICEF to engage the government of South Sudan on a Civil Registration Bill, to make sure all births are properly registered in the country. By ensuring all births are properly registered and the age of children is officially known, a legal framework to end child marriage can be more easily upheld.
In addition to this, Save the Children is carrying out comprehensive research on the drivers of child marriage in South Sudan. This research is vital to understanding why child marriage is more prevalent in some communities over others, and with more evidence we can make more impact. Due to be published in February 2018, this report will inform the ending child marriage campaign in South Sudan going forward.
WHAT’S INCLUDED IN THE PETITION
Early marriage has devastating consequences for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood by forcing her into adulthood and motherhood before she is physically and mentally ready.
The petition called on the constitution to change and provide clarity on child marriage. Three main asks were included:
1. No person, male or female in South Sudan may enter into any marriage including an unregistered customary law union or any other union including one arising out of religion or a religious rite before attaining the age of eighteen
2. The marriageable age for any girl in South Sudan shall be 19 years and that article 15 of TCRSS shall be properly understood as 19 years.
3. Any custom or practice that allows child marriage is unconstitutional and violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of the child enshrined under the Bills of Rights.