OpEd, Politics

Why girls are victims of forced marriage even in the 21st century

By Steady Ayuen

In the 21st century, girls are duped by risky forced marriages. Around 9% of the girls in South Sudan are married at the age of 15, while 52% get married at the age of 18. With these prevalence rates, one can tell that child marriage is, of course, a great destructive practice in our communities today when young teenagers are sold by their parents for cows and wealth.

Young innocent daughters, sisters, and future leaders are forcefully given to rich men who own a hundred heads of cattle, which is very inappropriate to foster our country’s prosperity. Without girls, there are no nurses who will take care of children and mothers in the maternal care service. Without them, there will be no well-trained midwives at the health centers.

If we do not care for our daughters and sisters, what future do you think we are going to have? Gender-based violence is an obstacle to the freedom of women who are suffering in silence because no one has allowed their freedom to dwell in them.

This is rampant, especially in our communities, and needs to be addressed urgently with effective measures to save the lives of girls who are undergoing violence in these communities. They don’t question themselves about the life they will encounter after forced marriage.

Many cases of suicide in our communities today are the result of forced marriage. Some girls poisoned themselves to death instead of persevering through the pain and difficulties.

Although we know a lot of measures have been put in place to end gender-based violence, they haven’t stopped. Do you know why? Because we are not united to stop it, parents and other stakeholders in our Societies are reluctant.

Girls and women lost their dignity and voices in the community because they were not given chances to equally represent themselves. They deserve equal participation in society. They should be involved in marriage and give their views about it.

However, men do not allow women to participate and make decisions in marriage, and this is the reason why forced marriage is rampant. Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that boys or men are more superior to women.

According to the report by the Girls Not Brides organization, the rate of child marriage was already high even before the conflict broke out in our country; nevertheless, high levels of instability, economic decline, erosion of services, and malnutrition may have contributed to an increase in child marriage and forced marriage in South Sudan.

Secondly, with millions of children in need of educational support, this has increased the high rate of school dropout on the side of girls, whose parents don’t care or can’t give out the little they have since they are girls because of their gender.

We should not be comfortable saying this because it hurts when boys go to school every day and our sisters remain at home because of their gender. The fact that they are female is the reason for their abandonment and deprived them of basic needs. According to my own understanding, this is the root cause of child marriage and forced marriage.

When girls remain at home to be the ones doing all the housework, this creates space for parents to allow child marriage. In our societies today, not only in South Sudan but in other countries around the world, women are regarded as less important genders or people. In Madagascar, some get married from dear families and are often led to believe that if they refuse the marriage, there will be a curse.

For instance, if the husband is much older than the bride, when she becomes a widow, she is discriminated against and excluded by society. In addition to that, according to Human Rights Watch, Malawi has widespread child and forced marriage, and girls are married before 18. Not only that but in Somalia, more than 45% of young women marry before the age of 18.

These are close figures. Furthermore, in South Africa, there is a practice of adopting young girls called Ukuthwala. This is very common in rural areas where girls are forced into marriage, often with the concern of their parents.

I think you won’t believe it, but I was heartbroken when I came across this during my research. This really shows that parents are the great agents of forced marriage. Girls do not choose on their own behalf; parents choose for them whom to marry and who not to.

In Asian countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and Indonesia, forced marriage remains common. In Europe and America, there are cases of forced and child marriage, and this shows that child marriage is a global issue that needs change and gender equality.

According to research carried out by the family ministry of Germany in 2011, 3,000 people were forced into marriage. In the battle against child marriage, we should try as a world to bring people together by promoting women’s rights and making girl child education a priority in our communities.

Throughout this fight, local and international organizations are trying their best to promote education as the only weapon to stop early marriage and create a sustainable future for both girls and boys. Many Embassies and scholarship partners and organizations are working cooperatively with the people of South Sudan through scholarship opportunities in order to keep girls and boys busy at school away from their parents.

There are numerous projects, such as school debates, sports competitions, and many campaigns to stop child marriage, that require support to impact communities. People have to come up with initiatives and clubs to address the challenges that are affecting our people.

There is a quote that says that “What a man can do, a woman can do better.” This remains a vivid reminder that women are as equal as men. Briefly, about my school life: I’ve never been to a single school simply because I like a mixed school where boys interact with girls since I believe women are great sources of inspiration and knowledge.

I remember in my class we used to compete with girls and often appear as top performers in class. I wrote this to emphasize the fact that both girls and boys are equal, so no one should be forced to marry at any age, and both should be given equal education.

International organizations should be given the freedom to extend their support to girls in rural areas in order to fight against gender-based violence through educational programs and campaigns.

The issue of forced marriage can only be addressed through education and training to equip parents with sufficient knowledge about the dangers of child marriage and the reasons it should be abolished.

Let’s stand up for women’s rights and stop child marriage for a better future in South Sudan.

The writer is a Poet, Author, Peace activist, and Motivational Speaker. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Peacepedia Youth Network and can be reachable through steadyayuen@gmail.com or 0924447405

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