Sudan’s fight against child marriage is only just dawning

By Josie O’Brien

AFTER the Sudanese coup d’état in April 2019, the transitional government agreed to address gender-based violence in the Northeast African country.

So far, the government has criminalised female genital mutilation and ratified the United Nations’ 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

But forced and child marriage remains widespread, with child marriage defined by Unicef as any “formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.”

The legal age of marital consent is 16 with parental consent in most countries but international definitions consider that a minor cannot fully agree to marriage. In this view, much of child marriage is forced marriage.

Unicef estimates 60 per cent of girls in Sudan aged 20 to 24 were married before age 18, ranking 16th in global prevalence. The prevalence rate of women aged 20 to 24 and married before age 15 is 27 per cent.

Most of these marriages are arranged by family with members of the same tribe or relatives, often without the girl’s consent or knowledge.

“In Sudan, the drivers of child marriage include poverty, lack of education, harmful social norms and practices, and insecurity,” Marta Hurtado, a spokesperson of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, told Redaction Report.

“More importantly, harmful practices are interrelated, and can therefore exacerbate human rights violations, and endanger the health and wellbeing of at-risk populations and survivors.

“This is particularly the case in Sudan, where child marriage follows female genital mutilation, which is considered a rite of passage to womanhood and a way to increase a girl’s marriageability.”

Cluster survey data collected as part of the recent UN backed study, Voices From Sudan 2020, showed married adolescents are 2.5 times more likely to have received no formal education than those who did not marry.

 “The educated girls marry mostly at 16 to 20, but the illiterate marry much earlier,” revealed a woman from Um Kadada, North Darfu. In some cases, girls are removed from school to be married.

Government policy upholds child marriage through a number of normative and institutional measures.

“These include in legal aspect, article 40 (3) of Sudan’s 1991 Personal Status Law for Muslims that allows the conclusion of the marriage of a minor girl, if it can be proven that the marriage will “benefit” the girl,” said Hurtado.

“The discriminatory provisions of the 1991 Personal Status Law for Muslims should be reformed and the minimum age for marriage be set at 18 years for both girls and boys to uphold rights of the child.”

Internationally, there is help to be offered. “Advocacy is key in the prevention strategy to address child marriage,” added Hurtado.

“The international community should continue to advocate for policies and programmes that empower girls and their communities, and ensure that they are well financed.

“The international community should also continue to engage with the Government of Sudan and other national stakeholders, to hold them accountable for the commitments they have made on the human rights of women and girls.”

Featured Image: Pixabay

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