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Child Marriage Increasing in Civil War-Torn South Sudan

SOUTH SUDAN — “If I’d have refused, my father and brothers would have killed me,” Eliza says. Shifting uncomfortably in her plastic chair, the 17-year-old recoils when remembering her wedding day.

In 2012, at the age of 13, Eliza was forced by her father to marry a 35-year-old man from their village in the South Sudan town of Rumbek. She was traded for 50 cattle.

As her family slaughtered a cow in celebration and sent her away, the girl was unhappy. “I just cried,” Eliza said. The Associated Press is using only her first name to protect her identity.

Fifty-two percent of girls in South Sudan are married before age 18, according to the United Nations. Seventeen percent marry before they turn 15.

The world’s youngest nation is well into its fourth year of civil war, with mass displacement, alleged war crimes and starvation driving millions of people deeper into despair. Although child marriage is a long-standing practice, South Sudan’s government and aid agencies say conflict-driven poverty and severe food insecurity are increasing its prevalence.

“People are dying from hunger,” said Isaac Karkon, head of the government’s humanitarian arm in Rumbek. “So if you have a mature daughter you give her up to let the rest survive.”

 

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