COVID-19 pandemic increasing child marriages in South Sudan

Hentet fra News Ghana august 20 2020 


Bildetekst: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (C) addresses the press on the current case of COVID-19, in Juba, capital of South Sudan, April 9, 2020. South Sudanese authorities on Thursday confirmed a third case of coronavirus. (Xinhua/Daniel Majak)

The COVID-19 pandemic could jeopardize the progress made to fight child marriage in South Sudan amid a sharp rise in teenage pregnancies, officials have warned.

South Sudan closed learning institutions in mid-March as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but officials are warning that the continued shutdown of schools may be risky to school-going girls as it exposes them to early marriage and unintended pregnancies.

Odomtula Hilary Okumu, a local education official in Eastern Equatoria State said the area has recorded at least 146 cases of child marriage since a partial lockdown was imposed four months ago.

Okumu blamed the closure of schools and cultural practices that promote early marriage for the sharp increase in cases of child marriage.

“We had 125 girls who dropped out (from school) from various counties just a week ago. Then the results came this week that 21 girls have been added. So, it raises the number of dropout girls to 146 in Eastern Equatoria,” Okumu told a local radio station in Juba early this week.

“That means the pregnancy of girls or early marriage of girls is going on as COVID-19 lockdown is not lifted,” he added.

Wodcan Savior Lazarus, executive director of Juba-based civil society group, Support Peace Development Initiative Organization (SPIDO) told Xinhua on Wednesday that the latest figures compiled by his organization indicate a sharp increase in child marriage and unintended pregnancies across the conflict-torn country.

“The whole country is in danger because if we can get over 140 girls married off in one state, then how is the situation in other areas. The preliminary report we have indicates that the problem is more serious than reported,” Lazarus said.

Lazarus warns that the ongoing conflict and economic pressure exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis could lead to more pregnancies and also force families to marry off their daughters to escape responsibility.

“Our main problem is the cultures because many people look at girls as a source of wealth, and negative cultures towards girls’ education,” Lazarus said.

“The government must punish those parents who are still using their girls as a source of income,” Lazarus appealed.

South Sudan’s legal marital age is 18, but the country has for long grappled with high rates of early and forced marriages.

According to the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), South Sudan has the seventh-highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world.

About 52 percent of girls in the country are married before their 18th birthday and nine percent marry before clocking 15 years old.

“I was shocked to read in the media that over 120 girls were impregnated in Eastern Equatoria State alone during this pandemic,” Gender and Social Welfare Minister Aya Benjamin Warrile said during the International Youth Day on Tuesday.

The minister said as a result of COVID-19, her ministry has also recorded a significant increase in the number of rape cases, defilement and cases of mental breakdown among young people.

She said most of the abuses were perpetrated by close relatives and members of the community.

“With this tough economic situation and no source of income, many people have gone through the trauma that needs to be addressed at both community and national levels,” she stressed.

UNICEF and UNESCO early this month urged the authorities to re-open learning institutions, arguing that prolonged shut down would interrupt the education of over two million children in the country.

But the government has declined the request, despite a recent announcement by President Salva Kiir to re-open places of worship.

South Sudan’s cumulative total of confirmed COVID-19 cases stood at 2,494, with 47 deaths and 1,290 recoveries as of Wednesday.

Chris Oyeyipo, deputy representative of the United Nations population fund, the UNFPA, said the partial lockdown in South Sudan has temporarily shut down safe spaces for girls, making it difficult to provide reproductive health services for those in need.

“Right now, world attention is on COVID-19, but we should not forget that the reproductive needs of women and girls during this time matters,” Oyeyipo said during an event marking the international youth day on Tuesday.

He urged the South Sudanese government to strengthen the protection of girls to arrest the current situation.

“The pandemic could derail the achievements of these commitments, but with the right strategy and sustained support, we will be able to deliver for the young people of South Sudan,” Oyeyipo said.

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