No to early marriage

Dozens of school children march into Blue Nile Primary School protesting child marriage. Photo: LWF/J. Tiboa

Child marriage is a common occurance in the refugee camps of Maban, South Sudan. Girls are sometimes as young as 10 when they are married to older men by their families. The LWF has been advocating against this practice for years. One occasion was the Day of the African Child, on 16 June, which this year had the theme, "end child marriage". This is the speech LWF staff member Julius Tiboa gave the community in Batil refugee camp.


Every year in June, we gather to commemorate and recall the events of 1976 in Soweto, when black school children in South Africa protested against the apartheid government. They demonstrated against the poor quality of education and demanded to be taught in their local language. These demonstrations resulted in the brutal killing of over 100 children. More than a thousand children were injured. Since that date, this day therefore, symbolizes the struggle of children, governments, NGOs, international organizations and other stakeholders against obstacles that stand in the way of the rights for African children.

Today we are here to reflect on the reality of children in Africa in general and South Sudan/Maban in particular. This day gives us an opportunity as child protection actors to evaluate the implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. However, despite the progress made by many actors in South Sudan there remain enormous challenges, such as poverty, violence and disease which affect children in this region.  

Deprived of an education

The theme of this year is “Accelerating our collective efforts to end child marriage in Africa”. In South Sudan and in South Sudanese refugee camps children are continuously exposed to social and cultural practices that harm and hinder their normal physical, emotional and psychosocial development. These practices include forced and early marriages, particularly of girls, female genital mutilation, animal grazing and child labor in hotels and markets which keep girls and boys from attending school, and child prostitution.

Getting married before the age of 18 is a huge struggle for a girl. In Maban, many young girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are forcibly married to older men by their families. During these marriages girls face extreme hardships.

The effects on the social and emotional skills of the young girls vary. The most common outcome is the withdrawal of girls from education. When a girl reaches the age of 10 years, her parents often have already arranged a wedding for her. They have taken her out of school to prepare her to marry and have children.

Unhappy arrangement

At the age of 10 years, a girl is not fully mature, nor is she well educated. Education is one of the biggest losses to a girl if she is married young. Taking a girl out of school to marry limits her opportunities to develop as an individual. Girls who have a family at a young age have to work to earn a living but since they are denied education, they are not qualified for most jobs that are available around in the refugee camps. This perpetuates gender imbalance between men and women and poverty in the families.

Girls who are married at a young age also experience emotional difficulties. From the day they are born they are taught that their only purpose in life is work in the kitchen, to get married and have children. Being forced to marry against their wish and with a great difference in age also often creates an unhappy marriage. If the couple is unhappy with each other then the relationship can turn to an abusive relationship.

Today, I appeal to all parents, caregivers, community leaders, teachers and public at large to protect children from all forms of abuse – forced and early marriage, violence and harmful practices. Let’s say no to early marriage.

Together, we can kick early marriage out of Maban and South Sudan.


Julius Tiboa works as a Child Protection Coordinator for LWF in Maban, South Sudan.