Reuters JUBA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — 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 percent 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 fueled 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.