“Girls in the community marry early. The situation worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. I witnessed a young girl I know get married and it broke me. I often worried when my turn would come”, shares Maria, 13 years old.
Maria recalls, “At first, my mother was not okay with me going to the child friendly space, but I kept going and then shared what we learned from the activities. I became aware on issues affecting the protection and welfare of girls. My mother eventually allowed me to attend.”
Through the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SSHF), World Vision constructed six child-friendly spaces (CFS) in Warrap State’s Greater Tonj to enable vulnerable children to recover from crisis, seek solutions to displacement and build resilience against acute shocks and chronic stresses.
This project focuses on the prevention and protection risks like psychosocial distress due to conflict, child marriage or forced marriage, intimate partner violence and child neglect. Aligned with the 2020 South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan’s objectives, it targets to address the risks faced by 55,000 people, especially children.
"I am now fully aware of my rights as a girl and my fellow children. I also take time to educate my parents because keeping them aware will help stop them from marrying me off early”, Maria says with hope.
"In South Sudan, 52 per cent of all girls are married before 18 years of age, depriving them of their basic rights and for some, even their lives", a UNICEF Report reveals.
"Child marriage is deeply rooted in gender inequality and harmful social norms. South Sudan is one of the countries with deeply entrenched cultural practices and social norms linked to gender. Child marriage is further fuelled by poverty', the report further states.
I am now fully aware of my rights as a girl and my fellow children. I also take time to educate my parents because keeping them aware will help stop them from marrying me off early.
World Vision’s Protection Officer Patricia Ajok says, “It is fulfilling to see girls freely open up on issues affecting them in the community. Unlike before a girl goes through pain alone and keeps silent with the fear of being disowned by their families.”
Ajok adds, “Coming from this community, I can see the encouraging changes the CFS, as well as the house-to-house visits conducted by the protection teams, have made.” The project has so far reached 10,104 people with psychological support and counseling on distress.
“Aside from the learnings, we also get to meet new friends and participate in different games which promote peaceful coexistence. We are excited to have this center. It is indeed a safe space for us”, Maria adds.
Maria’s friend 10-year old Charity shared excitement about the activities. “Every day after school, I rush home to change clothes and then go to the CFS to meet my friends. Together, we do what we love most -- traditional dances and skipping jumps. It brings me joy and keeps me refreshed after school.”
SSHF Project Manager Joseph Deng says, “This project is doing great in the community by addressing many protection concerns. However, the need to extend the same services to other areas is urgent."
"Our appeal is for funding agencies and all authorities to continue to support the many issues affecting the children in South Sudan" Deng concludes.
Story and photos by Scovia Faida Charles Duku, Communications Coordinator