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South Sudan: UN official welcomes release of women and children abducted by armed group

The expert leading UN efforts to stamp out sexual violence committed during wartime has welcomed the release of 78 women and 50 children by an armed group in South Sudan.

 

UN News (04.02.2020) – https://bit.ly/31Mlk1i – They were among more than 500 women and children abducted between April and August 2018 by the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO RM) and subjected to repeated rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage.

 

“This release is an encouraging and long-awaited development, in a context of prevailing insecurity and immense operational, logistical and resource constraints,” said Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in a statement issued on Tuesday.

 

Release followed months of negotiations

 

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been marred by years of conflict and instability following a political crisis which led to conflict between supporters of President Salvar Kiir and Mr. Machar, his former deputy, in December 2013.

 

The two leaders were expected to form a unity government last November, in line with a September 2018 peace deal, but the deadline was extended to this month.

 

Ms. Patten said the release of the abducted women and children followed months of negotiation between Mr. Machar and his local commanders and her Office, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and its Senior Women Protection Adviser.

 

“When I met with Dr. Machar last year, I expressed my grave concern about the plight of these women and children, many of whom were reportedly subjected to systematic and brutal forms of conflict-related sexual violence”, she said.

 

“As a result of our discussion, he issued a command order calling for the release of all women and children held against their will and their transfer to the United Nations and its civil society partners. This order was in line with the Unilateral Communiqué on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, which was signed by the SPLA-IO in 2014 in the framework of my mandate”.

 

Women and children inspired to come forward

 

The women and children who were freed had been held for many months in military bases in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan.

 

They are currently being supported by the UN and its civil society partners and have been referred for medical and psychosocial support.

 

Several of the women are pregnant and also have been referred to prenatal healthcare facilities.

 

Ms. Patten said their release is encouraging other women and children to come forward and seek support.

 

Her Office will continue to advocate for the release of the remaining abductees being held in Western Equatoria.





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South Sudan court annuls child marriage of 16-year-old in landmark case

South Sudan has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

By Hellen Toby

 

Global Citizen (09.07.2019) – https://bit.ly/2NZbXIH – A court in South Sudan has annulled a child marriage, in a rare legal case that activists say could signal a turning point for women’s rights in the conservative country.

 

The marriage of a 16-year-old girl, the daughter of a cattle herdsman, to a 28-year-old man was deemed illegal by a court in Kapoeta late last month, the southern state’s information minister Simon Karlo said this week.

 

Despite the legal age of marriage being 18, more than 50% of South Sudanese girls are wed before their 18th birthday, according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

 

Poverty, climate change, low levels of literacy and gender inequality in education have fuelled child marriage in the country for years.

 

But activists said last month’s ruling, the first of its kind in South Sudan’s eight-year history, could set a precedent for other girls in the country wishing to end marriages entered into at a young age.

 

“Child marriage is common in Kapoeta because the communities are cattle keepers and so they use their daughters for wealth,” Karlo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

 

“It is indeed the first time for a court here [in South Sudan] to take on such a case.”

 

The girl’s father, uncle and groom were each sentenced to three years in prison after arranging the marriage.

 

It involved paying a dowry of 60 cows to the bride’s family, according to Steward Women, the advocacy group that provided the girl with legal assistance.

 

The ruling against the three men was later overturned at the request of the girl and on the condition of a written “commitment” from the men pledging not to force her into marriage again.

 

“As a way of harmonizing the statutory law and customary law, the sentence was suspended and the girl was put under the protection of a guardian,” said Josephine Chandiru, executive director of Steward Women which offers legal advice to victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

 

“This was a historical moment … The judge opened a gateway for us to use it as a precedent in future child marriage cases.”

 

South Sudan has the seventh highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, according to UNICEF’s head of child protection, Jean Leiby.

 

“Already the fact that this issue came to court is a step forward in South Sudan,” Leiby said.

 

He called for improvements in the education of children and their parents as a way to combat child marriage.

 

“In many places in the country, many people do not know the modern laws,” he said. “So in line with that, sometimes you cannot blame the community for some actions because they don’t know.”


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