On the 2019 International Day of the Girl Child with the aim of addressing the needs and challenges that girls face and emphasizing that girls are children and youth too, SIHA remains committed to advocating for girls in the Horn of Africa. This year’s theme of “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable” is central to our programming. SIHA’s experience and work with girls living in conflict and post-conflict settings aims to address their overall subordination and subjection to gender-based practices, which are exploitative, sexually abusive, and violent, whilst also investing in unlocking their potential, and reducing their vulnerabilities as a marginalised group in the region. SIHA aligns itself with international human rights standards, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to oppose all behaviors, believes, practices, and norms which exploit girls to the detriment of their education, personal development, and rights to freedom and childhood: Across the Horn of Africa, for the past year, SIHA has been running a campaign, #GirlsAreYouthToo further highlighting that girls transition from children through the youth stage and onward to adulthood, must be acknowledged across all spheres of their lives.
ENDING CHILD MARRIAGE
Violence, economic collapse, and food insecurity fueled by over 5 years of conflict, have left families and individuals in a state of extreme vulnerability, whereby achieving basic needs takes precedence over many other concerns. This situation has combined with the practice of a husband’s family paying some form of wealth to the bride’s family as part of marriage customs, to result in increased forced marriages of young girls (children) to adult men because families with daughters are desperate to receive the ‘bride-wealth’. UNICEF statistics published last year, indicate that 9% of South Sudanese girls (who were between 20-24 when surveyed) were married before age 15, and 52% were married before age 18. The practice of child and forced marriages violates girls’ rights as enshrined in Articles 2, 3, 19, 34, 35, 36, and 39 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- SIHA will soon be releasing a policy paper, which will highlight the issues of bride wealth and SGBV against girls in South Sudan, and provide recommendations for effecting change. The paper is based on primary research conducted in Wau in 2018 and 2019.
- SIHA has conducted community outreach, education and training on the Maputo Protocol, gender-based violence, and impact of child and forced marriage in South Sudan.
- SIHA has also developed and activated protection policies and structured awareness programs in collaboration with the South Sudanese state government Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ministry of Gender, Child, and Social Welfare (MGCSW), academic institutions, CSOs and community members, to foster an inter-communal approach to protecting girls’ rights.
- These programs along with the policy paper seek to promote positive shifts in attitudes, behaviors, and practices around sexual violence against, in order to combat the normalization of sexual violence against girls and girl-child marriages, to increase public condemnation of sexual violence, and to protect girls’ human rights.
Low literacy rate among girls constitutes a direct and gender-based violation of their rights to an education (Articles 28 and 29) as well as their rights to know and understand their rights (Article 42). Countrywide data indicates that a gap still remains between girls’ literacy and boys’ literacy in Sudan. Ongoing conflict in the Nuba Mountains area, in particular, compromises the local educational system, but also drives families to value the bride-wealth their daughters will bring more than their daughters’ education and personal development.
- SIHA has established skills-development programs specifically focusing on combating illiteracy rates of girls in Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. The program also integrates prevention and awareness regarding all forms of violence against girls, particularly sexual violence into the curricula.
- It is crucial to intertwine literacy training with training that develops girls’ understanding of their rights and value as a human child because this will arm girls to stand against the pervasive incidence and normalization of devaluation of girls which manifests in excluding them from education, and subjecting them to violence, sexual violence, and other discriminatory gendered beliefs and practices. With these efforts SIHA is working to counteract the violations of girls rights enshrined in Articles 2, 28, 29, and 42 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
GIRLS’ RIGHTS AS MIGRANTS – MIGRANT GIRLS ARE YOUTH TOO
Eritrea’s population continues to be disrupted by the country’s military conscription, turmoil – enabling sexual violence and trafficking. Many girls do seek to escape these conditions, however the severity of the state’s control over the population combined with the fact that the border patrol is authorized to use fatal measures against anyone they suspect may be seeking to cross the border, combine to significantly hinder migration out of Eritrea.
High numbers of Ethiopian and Somali girls have been migrating into the Gulf in search of better economic conditions, and yet have face increased vulnerability during the journey and upon arrival, as they often come without legal status. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian migrants have been deported from Saudi Arabia alone since the Gulf State implemented a deportation campaign targeting Ethiopians two years ago. When these girls are returned to Ethiopia, they become Internally Displaced People (IDPs), making them even more susceptible to trafficking and child marriages. These girls account for nearly 50% of the migrant population.
One of the ways that SIHA is confronting these trends is by convening spaces for these migrant girls to come together, share experiences and navigate methods of healing and increased activism. This year, SIHA convened a Regional Girls Camp bringing girls from Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. The convening was held in Ethiopia. During the convening girls had space to direct the conversation. They shared with each other stories of the struggles they have faced. They also got the opportunity to receive training about legal rights frameworks that apply to them and their freedoms as young girls. Amongst others, some of the key Articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that were strengthened through this convening are Articles 2, 12, 22, 26, 27, 31, 34, 35, 36, 39, and 42.
Across all project locations, SIHA continues to use a number of methods to provide direct support to grassroots organizations and associations. SIHA acknowledges that emphasizing the girl-child’s right to be a right and be recognized as youth while simultaneously empowering and unlocking her potential especially in the Horn of Africa is a global effort. SIHA is committed to exploring and championing more innovative methods to unlocking the potential of girls in the Horn of Africa.
South Sudan is one of only two countries who have yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, SIHA strongly recommends that South Sudan ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The protection of girls from child marriage in Ethiopia is guaranteed by Ethiopian law, however there is still a large gap between enforcement and what has been codified. Indeed “4 in 10 young Ethiopian women were married or in union before their 18th birthday.” SIHA strongly recommends that the Ethiopian government partner with women’s civil society organizations to generate popular awareness of the harmful impacts of this practice as well as to develop enforcement mechanisms to ensure that the gap between lived reality and law is closed.
Sudan and Somalia are two of only a handful of countries worldwide who have yet to sign and ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women. This treaty safeguards the rights of girls as well as children and would be an important step for the two nations to demonstrate that they are committed to protecting the human rights of girls and are willing to be held accountable to this commitment.