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Conflict, poverty, hunger fuel child marriages in South Sudan

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Displaced South Sudanese families are seen in a camp for internally displaced people in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Tomping, Juba, South Sudan, July 11, 2016. Beatrice Mategwa/United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). REUTERS

JUBA (Xinhua) – Rising poverty and hunger following five years of brutal civil war in South Sudan is driving many families to marry off their young daughters for a dowry to survive, Oxfam said in a report published Monday.

The international charity said a study it conducted in the northern Town of Nyal found that 70 percent of girls are married before the age of 18, significantly higher than the pre-conflict national average of 45 percent.

The survey also found that one in 10 girls are married before the age of 15, noting that while child marriage is still influenced by traditions, the main driver now is poverty and hunger fueled by a conflict that erupted in late 2013.

“Rising poverty and hunger following five years of vicious civil war are driving families to desperation, with many parents marrying off their young daughters for a dowry in order to survive,” Elysia Buchanan, Oxfam’s policy adviser in South Sudan, said in a statement.

“Denied their rights to choose how they want to live their lives, the girls face increased risk of losing out on their education, death in childbirth, and sexual and physical violence in their marriage,” he added.

According to estimates by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, South Sudan has the seventh highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world, as 52 percent of girls in South Sudan are married off before their 18th birthday and 9 percent are married before the age of 15.

Despite reduction in fighting following a peace deal in September 2018, the factors that have exacerbated girls’ risk of child marriage remain unabated, Oxfam said.

The charity called on the government to take urgent actions against the practice and invest significantly to end child marriage.

“Tackling child marriage is first and foremost about protecting young girls. But improving the status of women and girls is also essential for the recovery of South Sudan,” Ms Buchanan said.

“Another important step that the country’s leaders can make to show they take South Sudanese women seriously, is to honor commitments made in the peace agreement to ensure 35 percent executive positions are filled by women, and to nominate women in key positions of influence,”she added.

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