Abyei — Women activists in the southern state of Warrap said on Monday they reject the traditional marital arrangements which encourages early and forced marriage against the will of young girls.
Nyanut Madut, acting chairperson of Twic county women association, in an interview with Sudan Tribune said on Monday that just days after the region celebrated International Women's Day, reports about young girls being forcefully have emerged.
"It makes sad reading that some traditional leaders in some areas, especially here in Twic, continue marrying off their teenage daughters when they are supposed to be at school. Some fathers who care less about trampling on their fundamental human rights, married off these teenage girls against their wishes.
"It is unfortunate that a headman, who is supposed to be a role model, is at the forefront of such a heinous trend when he should be enlightening his subjects on the benefits of education and the need to protect the girl child's rights", explained Nyanut.
She accused a certain local chief she did not want to be named, of promoting forced marriage in order to receive a payment of cows, in her village in the Wunrok locality.
"Some of the chiefs, instead of discouraging forced marriage, they are encouraging it because they are paid for influencing marital arrangements. It has become a business for them. This may also explain why this scourge is on the rise in rural areas, especially in Warrap State.
"Our news story about the marrying off of four girls each for 100 cows, by one parent, makes sad reading and calls for measures to stop such degrading malpractices. What difference is there between slavery, which was outlawed many years ago, and a parent raising female children with price tags on them, to benefit from them by marrying them off as teenagers against their wish?
"This is why the incidents caused such uproar among women and men during the International Women's Day on the 8 March, because we think there is an extremely thin line between such forced marriages and outright sale of children", she said.
Colonel Deng Kuoc Malek, commissioner of Twic County, said his administration is determined to fully implement policies which discourage forced marriage through dissemination of information to the traditional leaders.
"I am not saying there are no areas for concerns and corrections. There could be one or two incidents but not comparable to other times in the past, when women do not know what they now celebrate as women day. Making them know the official existence of the international women day is indeed a big difference.
"The Government of South Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement [SPLM] has made it a commitment to ensure women rights are observed and has adopted a policy aimed at promoting education of women and girls, though it is unfortunate that some people are frustrating these efforts", explained Malek.
Malek said his administration will not permit any violation of women's 'basic human rights' but was quick to warn that such rights should be compatible with non-harmful traditional practices.
"Our people need proper education through traditional leadership and the local administration. There is also a need for a clear approach so that there is no culture clash", explained Malek.
He said also opposed to early marriage because it deprives girls their right to pursue education and that there no guarantees for continuing their education once married.
"I am one of the people opposed to early marriage because it deprives girls of their rights and the chance to pursue their education. Another reason is that in most cases there are guarantees that their suitors or husbands will encourage them continue with the education. This is why we cannot agree more with some people government policies that deals with anyone marrying off teen girls who are at school, especially that the trend is on the rise", he said.
Mayen Kuc, a primary teacher on Wunrok commended Malek for his work on young marriages:
"Yes, I know it is the responsibility and right of the parents to decide when their daughter or son should be marry but this should be when they are fully mature. Parents have the right to allow their children to get married but marrying off children in their teens but should not be allowed when they are still at school.
"Maybe it is high time the government started to review or enact legislation protecting children so that stiffer punishment could be meted out to people forcing pupils to stop school and marry them off", explained Kuc.