South Sudan

Awareness on ills of early marriages and children in armies in focus when UNMISS celebrated day of the African child

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MOSES PASI/FILIP ANDERSSON

Early, and often forced, marriages are alarmingly common in South Sudan. What, then, could be a better way to mark the Day of the African Child than by raising awareness on the potentially lifelong scars caused by this harmful practice?

This line of reasoning prompted the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to invite ten Juba-based school children to take over Miraya, the peacekeeping mission’s radio station, for the day.

They seized the opportunity with flair and gusto, and following the airing of a recording of a drama on the topic of early, forced marriages, the young radio stars responded to comments and questions from listeners calling in.

“I want to continue with my schooling so that I can become a doctor. As a doctor, I will not be poor and I will be able to help people not to get sick, or to get their health back if they are sick,” 13-year-old Mary Poni from Queen’s Primary School tells her nationwide audience when asked about her own plans.

The radio play on premature marriages, written by UN police officer Ivana Josipovic, was followed by the children manning and womanning other popular Radio Miraya shows, including Beats, dedicated to music.

“Forcing us to get married is a crime, really. It stops us from getting educated and deprives us of our lives as children and teenagers,” Elizabeth Tito, a 17-year-old student at the Exodus Primary School, told an inquisitive caller. “Instead, give us the right to freely choose whom to marry, if and when we are ready for it,” she added.

On a day dedicated to children in Africa, a focus on protecting and promoting their rights comes naturally. An hour-long programme dedicated to discussing related issues, not least the chronic problem of girls and boys being affiliated with armed groups, was therefore also on air, and organized by the peacekeeping mission’s Community Outreach Unit.

Among the studio guests providing thoughtful insights were representatives from the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission and the UNMISS Child Protection Unit.

“The Day of the African Child gives us and our partners a great opportunity to raise awareness on not only the challenges but also on what has been achieved when it comes to advancing the rights of every child in South Sudan, regardless of his or her ethnicity, gender or other characteristics,” says Shantal Persaud, a Public Information Officer serving with the peacekeeping mission.

The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991.