Save the Children and Advocates Without Borders (a group of Human Rights Lawyers in practice in South Sudan) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to mount a legal challenge before Supreme Court of South Sudan (sitting as Constitutional Court) for pronouncements on ending child marriage. The initiative will be supported by Parliamentary Women Caucus, Ministry of Gender, Child & Social Welfare, Select Committee of Gender and Child, South Sudan Women Lawyers and other agencies and civil society.

Advocates without Borders is a group of Human Rights Lawyers of duly licensed advocates already in practice in South Sudan. They have their own law firms but have come together to advocate, promote and protect human rights through public interest litigation. This is a strategic partnership as Save the Children legal to petition the Constitutional Court of South Sudan on child marriage which was not clearly defined in the Child Act of 2018.

The signing of this MoU is a big step in the fight against child marriage in South Sudan. Earlier this month the Ministry of Gender Child and Social Welfare and Save the Children developed a national road map on ending child marriage. Girls in South Sudan are probably the most disadvantaged group. It is estimated that 52% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 9% before the age of 15, of whom approximately 30% will bear children before the age of 18.

Only 35.4% of girls are enrolled at the primary school level in South Sudan, and a shocking 1.9% at secondary level. It is estimated that 27% of all girls drop out of primary school every year. Of the 2,424 children reported to have dropped out of school in 2014, 79% were girls of which 229 or 12% girls dropped out because of pregnancy and child marriage

South Sudan’s legal system is not very explicit on child marriage. Article 15 of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 (as amended) elusively talks about ‘marriageable age’ and doesn’t define, explicitly, at what age a person can marry. The Child Act, 2008, United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child, 1989 and other international laws applicable to children are not harmonized with the Constitution and the law.

Together with South Sudanese human rights lawyers who, on their own conviction and motivation have decided to mount legal challenge on the illegality of child marriage, Save the Children will support this petition to ensure that a declaration by the Supreme Court of South Sudan that child marriage is an illegal pactice. All cases of children should be determined using Child Act, 2008 and the principle of best interest of the child and orientation towards capacity building of legal professionals, judges, prosecution attorneys and customary court officials on the Practice Direction on children.