A day-long commemoration of 16 Days of Activism in Lakes, South Sudan, saw powerful testimonies against underage marriages by young secondary school students here. Photo by James Mawien/UNMISS
LAKES - The impact of early and forced marriages on young girls: This was the burning topic of discussion as Lakes, South Sudan marked the ongoing 16 Days of Activism.
More than 40 participants— schoolgirls, women’s groups and civil society—congregated at a day-long forum organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan's (UNMISS) Human Rights Division, in partnership with the state Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and the Human Rights Commission.
The highlight of the event was stirring presentations made by secondary school students on the impact of underage marriages on education and overall development of young girls across the country.
“As girls, we also contribute to early marriages,” said Rebecca Aluel, a student. “We often don’t focus enough on our own education and waste our time on trivial pursuits. This leads our parents to think we are not capable of becoming independent, educated young women and they opt to marry us off. If we do not demonstrate our focus and determination, we will end up perpetuating such regressive norms.”
Rebecca’s moving words were echoed by Angelina Ding Mario, state Minister for Child and Social Welfare. “There have been innumerable cases of gender-based violence in Lakes and young girls who are married off as minors are at greater risk of domestic abuse. Parents and children must be constantly vigilant to ensure every girl receives the same education as boys and young girls must be serious about building an economically independent future for themselves,” said Minister Mario.
Additionally, participants discussed the cultural narratives that condone violence against women and legal frameworks available for the protection and promotion of women’s rights.
For his part, Malook Makoi, Chair of the Human Rights Commission urged community members to be vigilant and report any suspected cases of violence against women immediately.
“Women’s rights are human rights and all of us have a collective responsibility to ensure that no woman or young girl suffers from any form of abuse,” stated Mr. Makoi.
The simplest but most powerful endorsement came from Alek Mabor, another participating student as she appealed to parents across South Sudan to give equal opportunities to their daughters.
“When you educate your daughter, you are educating this nation,” she said.