Without proper education system that is benefiting even the poorest households, parents/guardians will continue to convince their young girls that marriage is the biggest achievement they can ever accomplish. Unintended teenage Pregnancy and Child Marriage are two of the main reasons adolescent girls and boys drop out of school in South Sudan. However, the reverse is also true, the poor education system in South Sudan is also a contributing factor to these unintended teenage pregnancy and child marriage in South Sudan. The average number of years in school by a South Sudanese is only 5.4 years and the national literacy rate is 27%. About 37 % of girls enroll in primary schools but only 7% are able to complete and only 2% go to secondary school. Most of the existing schools are public schools where teachers are rarely paid on time, lack descent facilities and scholastic materials. There are some payams and Bomas that barely have well-functioning primary schools that can accommodate half of the children in that area leave alone secondary level of education. School has become a mere waiting ground for marriage especially for young girls whose families see no value in the kind of education they are receiving.
The #TooYoungtobeMarried campaign for the previous 5 weeks has been focusing on highlighting the effects of Child Marriage and Unintended Pregnancy on Education. The weekly Radio Talk-shows hosted students (adolescent girls and boys), teachers, parents and an Advisor of Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) program.
What clearly came out of these engagements both on radio and social media platforms is the fact that majority of South Sudanese communities have not yet understood the value of education, especially when it comes to girls and the unpromising existing education facilities and system continue to affirm this. Harmful yet highly treasured cultural norms continue to dominate and frustrate efforts in place intend to promote Girl Child Education and end Child Marriage in South Sudan. The cultural assumptions that term any girl-child who hits puberty/gets her period a “woman” even if she’s 12 years old comes with the pressure of the next expected step being marriage.
“The government should enact laws that will protect girls to go to school and also protect them from being married off at a tender age” Says Yolanda Felix, The Education Advisor of Girls Education South Sudan Program.
Prohibition of sexuality education for adolescent girls and boys is also a contributing factor to the high unintended teenage pregnancy that leads to school dropouts and Child Marriage. Although the Ministry of General Education and Instruction allows re-entry of married or pregnant girls to school, these young girls are already burdened with new responsibilities and in most cases their new marital families are not usually very supportive of their education.“The government should enact laws that will protect girls to go to school and also protect them from being married off at a tender age” Says Yolanda Felix, The Education Advisor of Girls Education South Sudan. Ending Child Marriage will help keep more girls in school and expand opportunities for girls, their children, community and country as a whole.
It was also evident that all the efforts in place to end Child Marriage and promote education especially girls’ education are heavily donor dependent. GESS is funded by the UK government, the current Strategic National Action Plan to end Child Marriage in South Sudan by 2030 is mostly financially supported by international organizations led currently with UNFPA at the forefront, UNICEF continues to be the backborn of primary education needs in South Sudan to mention but a few. Such processes require utmost National Budgetary Prioritization and commitment for massive and measurable success to be realized.
Some of the key recommendations from the 5-weeks engagement included:
- Commitment from National line ministries of Education, Health, Justice and Gender, Child and Social Welfare.
- Accessible, affordable and well-functioning primary and secondary schools across South Sudan especially in the remote areas.
- Provision of menstrual hygiene management kits to school going girls.
- There is need to review the existing laws and policies in place to protect children from child marriage, especially girls.
- Implementation of the existing laws and policies to ensure perpetrators are held accountable.
- Sexuality education through extracurricular activities.
South Sudan has a national commitment to end Child Marriage by 2030, this can only be realized if the strategic National Action Plan is strongly spearheaded by the line ministries of; General Education and Instructions, Health, Justice and Gender Child and Social welfare. Indeed, there has to be something accessible and affordable keeping children engaged and that something is none other than school. Girls who have a secondary education are six times less likely to marry as children.
A well-functioning and effective education system in South Sudan will systemically and automatically reduce Child Marriage prevalence in South Sudan.