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Northern Bahr El Ghazal youth on radio miraya: new constitution can end early, forced marriages

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With customary laws allowing for early, often forced marriages, and with the effects of these relations frequently obstructing the participation of girls and young women in most aspects of life and society, the odds to prosper in South Sudanese life are heavily stacked in favour of males.

“This is one reason the drafting of the country’s permanent constitution is super important. Stronger laws can put an end to early and forced marriages, which in turn will lead to much more equal conditions for girls and boys, women and men,” stated activist Angelo Maria when Radio Miraya, the broadcaster run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), marked International Youth Day.

Under the theme “Youth for sustainable development”, some 160 young men and women from across Northern Bahr El Ghazal were invited to interact with the radio station’s studio panelists, and they did not disappoint.

A wide array of topics, ranging from political representation and governance to economic development and equal opportunities, was passionately debated, with most discussions ending up with customary laws – and the harmful practices they allow for – being pinpointed as one of the root causes of the significantly differing life prospects of boys and girls, respectively.

“This radio youth forum is a platform for our young people to talk about their roles in developing the country. They are, willingly or not, the protagonists of most of South Sudan’s intercommunal conflicts, which means that bringing them together to reflect on how they can contribute to a brighter future is also a platform to bring peace,” said George Livio, the Radio Miraya presenter who hosted the show.

With 74 per cent of the country’s population being aged below 30, Mr. Livio was hardly exaggerating the vital role they can play in shaping the nation’s future. For that to happen, it was agreed, the manipulation of youth by a variety of political interests must stop.

“Early and forced marriages are a big part of the problem. Many of us are obliged to marry and have children at a very young age, which results in lots of divorces and girls dropping out of school, in that way harming their own chances to become educated citizens active in society and their communities,” said Tito Awen, Chairperson of the Youth Union in Northern Bahr El Ghazal State.

The traditional culture that condones these practices clashes, however, with the Convention of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

“South Sudan is a signatory both of this convention and the African Charter. These documents establish the rights of women to be respected and not having to accept early and frequently forced marriages. The far-reaching consequences of these marriages make the discussions we have enjoyed here today essential,” concluded Sarwah Qader, a Gender Affairs Officer serving with UNMISS.

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