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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2016 5:08 pm 
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Turkish child marriage film shines light on hidden abuses
By Zoe Tabary
15 October 2016

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Child brides in Turkey are often raped, beaten and forced to undergo virginity tests, according to the director of a new documentary which aims to break the silence on the taboo issue.

"Growing Up Married", which will premiere in London on Oct. 30, examines the impact of child marriage on four women who were wed as teenagers in western Turkey. "When hearing some of their stories I thought to myself 'how are you still alive?'," filmmaker Eylem Atakav said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Globally, one third of girls in developing countries, excluding China, are married before the age of 18 and one in nine before the age of 15, according to U.N. data. Child marriage robs girls of their childhood and education and increases the risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse, campaigners say. It also puts them in danger of death or serious injury if they have children before their bodies are ready. "There are lots of stories about child brides, but very few that look at what happens to them after," said Atakav, a lecturer in film and television studies at the University of East Anglia in Britain.

The Turkish-born director said her filming trip to Izmir in July revealed survivors felt an urgent need to speak out. "I had spent the day interviewing two of my parents' neighbors about their experiences," she recalled. "Then there was a knock on the door – three women from the neighborhood came to ask if I was making a film about child brides and said that they wanted to talk about their experiences too."

The women in the film, now in their 30s to 50s, were married between the ages of 14 and 17. "They put a wedding gown on me one night and took me to some place I had never seen before - I (have) remained silent ever since," one of the women says in the film.

Another describes how she used to dread night-time because her husband would drag her to the bedroom where he "took pleasure out of pulling my hair". "I used to collect all my hair from the floor and pillows every morning. Then I started cutting my hair so that he couldn't hurt me as much."

Atakav said the film also revealed more "insidious" forms of abuse. "Tradition in Turkey dictates that the bride should be a virgin, before she has sex with her husband on the night of the wedding," she explained. "Family members wait outside the bedroom to then note the blood on the white sheet in the morning."

Atakav said that one of the women in the film who was married at 15 was accused of not being a virgin when her family couldn't see any blood. "Her husband shouted at the family 'you bought me a woman, not a girl!'." The woman said she was taken to another village for a virginity test and that "life after that was awful".

Only one of the four women in the film is still married to her husband, said Atakav. Two are divorced and one has remarried but her former husband has banned her from seeing her daughter. "These women have somehow managed to go on with their lives but you can see the pain on their faces," Atakav said.

Campaign group Girls Not Brides says Turkey has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe, with an estimated 15 percent of girls married before the age of 18. The minimum age of marriage in Turkey is 17 years, although marriage at 16 can be allowed with court approval.

Atakav hopes her documentary will raise awareness of "this invisible issue, and be a tool for women's voices to be heard everywhere". "What I'd really like is to go show the film in Turkey," she said. "Only privileged families, if anyone, have access to these types of films when those who most need (to see) them don't."

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2017 10:58 pm 
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In China's marriage markets, parents secretly hitch the happily single
Wanting to stay single is a dread secret many young Chinese keep from their parents. So strong is the pressure to marry that some parents play matchmaker without even consulting their offspring.
13 January 2017

Beijing (dpa) - Sunday is market day at the Temple of Heaven Park in central Beijing, with lots of haggling and touting of wares. "Woman, born 1988, 168 centimetres tall, 55 kilograms, nurse," reads one notice among a row of other A4 sheets laid out on the paved ground.

One man who looks to be in his mid-50s appears interested, reading the advertisement closely. "My son," he says and holds out a photo to the woman sitting behind the notice on a low wall.

Parents are busy here trying to pair off their offspring. In China, being married is an important element in validating yourself as a full part of society, an attitude which causes endless discomfort to single women and gay people.

Chinese women are expected to be married off before the age of 30 and that is the case for around 90 per cent of women, with the average age of marriage hovering at 26, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics. Those featured in the adverts in the park tend to be slightly over that average - they were born in 1987, 1988 or 1989.

On some adverts there's a code that interested parents can scan with their smartphones and which leads directly to the son or daughter's page on the WeChat social network. It's the marriage market in the digital age and often the future lucky couple have no idea what their parents are up to. "It's really embarrassing for a lot of people," says 25-year-old Billy as he sits in a cafe in a Beijing shopping centre. His parents, too, regularly tout potential brides for him. But Billy is only interested in men. "My parents don't know anything about this," he says. His home on the southern Chinese island of Hainan is very traditional, he says. "I would have to first explain to my father the concept of homosexuality," says Billy. If he did come out to his family, there would be tears, he says, because his parents expect to one day have grandchildren.

So, he tells them that at the moment he's too busy to have a girlfriend. He's not sure how long he can keep up the lie, but he will definitely be sticking to it in February, when he flies home, alone, to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Hardly any Chinese parents know about their children's homosexuality, and that applies to most of his gay friends in Beijing, says Billy. While there are lots of gay bars, clubs and organizations for gay people in the capital, having that conversation with your own parents is impossible, he says. "It would be seen as a disgrace for the family," he says. Friends who have outed themselves to their parents in most cases no longer have any contact with their parents, he says.

Single people generally run into problems in China's marriage-obsessed society. Around 200 million Chinese are single, and a majority of those millions are men, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua. According to the country's statistics bureau there will be 24 million more men of marriageable age than women by the year 2020.

Oddly, it's the unmarried women over the age of 27 rather than the men who tend to be regarded as if they are "rejects," says Xiong Jing, director of the Women's Media Monitor Network, which promotes gender equality in Chinese media. "Marriage is seen as a basic necessity in life," she says. Being unmarried implies you can't provide for yourself.

Even highly educated women with good jobs and who are financially independent feel the pressure to marry, says Jing. The mere fact that there are more independent women around nowadays is a big change, she says.

China only officially ended its one-child-per-family policy last year. Most young people are only-children. So parents' expectations are high.
"That leads to a lot of worry among some women," says Jing. The pressure doesn't just apply to women, she adds. "Men also come under the same pressure, though it tends to happen later."

But there isn't the same stigma for men who remain unmarried into their 30s and 40s, she says. If a single woman gets a top job, she's quickly called a "nu han zi," or, loosely translated, a "manly woman."

"Man have have fewer disadvantages in that situation," says Jing.

Internet: - [Women of China on "nu han zi," in English] (http://www.womenofchina.cn/womenofchina ... 7688-1.htm)
- [Xinhua on single women in Beijing, in English] (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016- ... 126682.htm)

Source: dpa

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 22, 2017 3:08 pm 
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In Malaysia, why is child sex bad but child marriage OK?
By Tashny Sukumaran
22 April 2017

When she came to me, she was 13, had already delivered her first child, and the boy – then 15 – had already divorced her and run off,” said child rights activist Dr Hartini Zainudin, recalling her first case of teen marriage in Malaysia.

“Her mother was dead and her father, a security guard, had severe gout. The father would come to me to ask for help to get milk powder and diapers. Eventually I sat the girl down and explained to her that the welfare of her child was her responsibility. She had to either go back to school or find a job, or I’d have to ask the welfare department to step in.”

“Sweetheart” cases – so called because of the perceived romantic element – are rampant in Malaysia, often ending in divorce. In many cases it’s a cruel misnomer – marriages are often concluded to resolve criminal liability, to escape rape charges or penalties for premarital sex. In 2015, the health minister said an average of 18,000 teens get pregnant annually, a quarter of them out of wedlock.

According to government statistics, between 2010 and 2015, there were 6,264 applications for child marriage from Muslims – the number of approved applications is unknown – and 2,725 non-Muslim teenage girls who got married.

The age of consent for sex in Malaysia is 16. Under civil law, the minimum age of marriage is 18 with parental consent (21 without), but girls may be married between the ages of 16 to 18 with the consent of a state’s chief minister.

Under Islamic law, the minimum age of marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls, but people can marry even younger with the consent of a sharia judge. There is no minimum age, and marital rape is not recognised as a crime in Malaysia. Causing hurt in order to have sex with one’s wife, however, is a minor offence. This loophole has gone unplugged by the Sexual Offences against Children Bill, passed in Malaysia’s parliament this month, which criminalises child grooming and sets harsh penalties for making or possessing pornography involving people under 18. The new law, enmeshed in the politics of election-bound Malaysia, became mired in further controversy when a member of parliament from the ruling National Front coalition shot down a proposed amendment, saying girls as young as nine were “physically and spiritually ready” for marriage. Shabudin Yahaya, a retired sharia judge, said there was nothing wrong with a girl marrying her rapist, but later claimed he was misquoted and that marriage was not a back door to legalising rape.

Lawmakers and activists alike have spoken out against the law’s failure to criminalise child marriage. “Child marriage is statutory rape and no one, including a parent or guardian, can give consent to statutory rape,” said lawyer and opposition MP William Leong.

Opposition MP Khalid Samad said that while there may be specific cases and circumstances where teens aged 16 and below can be allowed to marry, it should only be if due diligence is carried out by the relevant authorities. “Child marriages should be an exceptional thing, not a general rule,” he said, pointing out that in poorer villages, parents sometimes feel marriage is the best way to escape poverty. “We think about things like schooling, which may not even be a reality for some. But nor can we generalise and say that marriage is the best way to handle the situation. What we must, instead, do is focus on improving access to education and our economy so that this solution is unnecessary for anybody. If those things improve, this situation would not arise.”

Women’s rights NGO Sisters in Islam says religion is being politicised and blames the government for failing to comply with international standards in protecting children. It demands the Malaysian government increase the minimum age requirement for marriage to 18 years for both men and women by amending the Islamic Family Law Act (Federal Territory) and the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.

Political analyst Professor James Chin of the Asia Institute, University of Tasmania, said the new law was part of a pattern of controversial Islam-based policy moves the ruling coalition is making ahead of the election, which can come as early as July. “Politicians want to see how far they can go with this and how much they can capture,” he said. “While [the ruling coalition] shot down the child marriage amendment, it has also been promising non-Muslim amendments to child conversion laws. Younger people won’t be happy about the more right-wing moves, but among the older, more conservative crowd, it’s a different story. It’s all about what can pull more votes and keep both vote banks – Malays and non-Malays – happy.”

Source: South China Morning Post

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PostPosted: Sun May 28, 2017 5:46 am 
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Girls are increasingly being married off in war-torn Yemen
By AHMED AL-HAJ and MAGGIE MICHAEL
27 May 2017

IBB, Yemen (AP) -- Nasrine's husband was once a happy, optimistic man. He made good money from a restaurant and butcher shop he owned. "With his hands, he could turn dust into gold," Nasrine says.

Then Yemen's civil war escalated, and as the country collapsed, so did he. He lost his businesses, the family became destitute, he began abusing Nasrine, and they divorced, she says. Soon after, she says, she learned to her horror that her ex-husband had agreed to marry off their 10-year-old daughter to a man in his 60s for 1 million riyals, or about $4,000. Nasrine managed to block the wedding and went into hiding with her daughter.

Her case illustrates what human rights activists say is a dire situation for girls in Yemen: Child marriages are mounting dramatically in the Arab world's poorest country, fueled by a war that has thrown society into turmoil.

As the fighting grinds on in its third year, millions of families are unable to make ends meet, and more than 3 million people have been driven from their homes, ending up in camps. For families desperate for cash, unable to support their children or afraid they cannot protect their daughter's "virtue," marrying off a girl becomes the solution.

UNICEF said in March that early marriage in Yemen has become "alarmingly widespread." In a survey conducted in September in six provinces, 72 percent of female respondents said they got married before 18 - compared with around 50 percent in surveys before the war - and about 44 percent said they were wedded before they turned 15, the organization said. "Parents marry off their daughters to be relieved of the cost of their care or because they believe a husband's family can offer better protection," UNICEF said. "Families also seek dowry payments to cope with conflict-related hardship."

Local organizations working to end child marriage point to what they consider numerous egregious cases. In one case, a father ran out of cash while buying qat - leaves habitually chewed as a stimulant in Yemen - so he gave his daughter to the dealer in marriage. Another man married off his daughter three times in two years for repeated dowries, all before she turned 18. In another case, a child bride who had been handed over by her father in exchange for a taxi bled to death after being forced to have sex days after her wedding.

There is no minimum age for marriage in Yemen. In the 1990s, a law setting the age at 15 was repealed by Parliament under pressure from Muslim conservatives, who argue that Islamic Shariah law does not prohibit child marriage and that attempts to curb the practice are a Western plot. While the Ministry of Justice has issued a directive against marriages of girls under 18, it is often disregarded by judges.

Sexual intercourse before the girl reaches puberty is banned, but the law is nearly impossible to enforce. Human rights groups have documented cases of prepubescent girls bleeding to death from being raped by husbands.

At a shelter in the city of Ibb, Nasrine told the Associated Press about her fight to rescue her daughter. She spoke on condition that her last name not be used to protect the girl's identity. Before the war upended her family, her husband would bring in the equivalent of $20 a day, a decent wage in Yemen, and during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, when everyone hires butchers to slaughter sheep and other livestock, he would make as much as $4,000.

After losing his businesses and scrounging for work with little success, "he lost the appetite to do anything, work, eat or live," Nasrine said. She added: "He used to beat us up and became very pessimistic, unlike the man I used to know, who used to be optimistic."

Soon after the couple's divorce, she said, she learned that he had signed a marriage contract for their daughter and the wedding was set to take place in a month. A top tribal leader, Mohammed Shabana, intervened, and the father agreed under pressure to return half the money and to sign, along with the husband-to-be, a pledge not to marry off the girl until she turns 18. Shabana said the father had entered into the contract for the money and to take revenge against his former wife. "We stopped it," he said.

In trying to block the wedding, Nasrine said she sought help from the judge who presided over the marriage contract, but he refused. "Go learn the law and come talk to me later," she quoted the judge as saying. "Even if the girl is 2 months old, the father agreed. It's done."

The judge, Abdu al-Wahed Nagi Mohsen, denied the mother's accusations and said he has never been part of any underage marriages. He said he asks for identification and proof of age in keeping with the Ministry of Justice's instructions.

Nasrine is now in hiding in a shelter run by the Yemen Women Union, a women's rights organization, and said she is afraid her ex-husband and the groom-to-be will retake the girl. She said the situation breaks her heart: "I want my daughter to go out and play with the rest of the kids. For a year now, she is trapped here."

Hayat al-Kaynaee, the representative of the U.N. Population Fund in Ibb, confirmed Nasrine's story. The father and the would-be husband could not be reached for comment.

Because of the fighting between government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition on one side and Houthi rebels supported by forces loyal to the country's former president on the other, more than 400,000 girls under 18 have lost their homes, and many of them are living in refugee camps. Hundreds of thousands of girls have lost access to schooling, and when girls are not in school, many families start to think about marrying them off.

Child marriage is growing dramatically in the camps, said Najlaa Mohammed, with the Yemen Women Union. Sometimes, she said, the father fears his daughter will be raped and seeks a husband in hopes of protecting her. Other times, it is purely for the money, she said.

Once common in rural areas, child marriage is also sweeping into cities because of the conflict, said Nabil Fadel, head of the National Organization to Combat Human Trafficking. "Imagine for the past six months, there were no salaries, soaring unemployment and poverty," he said. For men who stand to benefit financially by marrying off their daughters early, "it's hard to resist."

International organizations warn that child brides are in danger of domestic violence. Hanadi, a divorced 17-year-old, told the AP that she was married off at 13 because of her family's need for money and the notion that marriage is a woman's destiny. She said she was abused by her in-laws, with whom she lived in rural Sanaa.

She was prevented from going to school, banned from talking to her family, forced to do household chores and treated like a "slave," she said. She said she fled and sought a divorce after a beating by her in-laws caused her to suffer an abortion. "Even laughing, I was not allowed to laugh," she said. "They took control over the simplest things in my life."

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 24, 2017 9:56 pm 
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Jordan to cancel 'marry the victim' clause shielding rapists
By ALICE SU
24 June 2017

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- A pregnant 15-year-old who had been raped by a brother-in-law decided to marry her attacker, hoping this would shield her from other male relatives who might kill her in the name of "family honor."

A young woman was taken into protective custody after being stabbed 17 times by a brother who accused her of bringing "shame" to the family for running away from an abusive husband.

Jail, forced marriage or the risk of getting killed by family members - these are some of the harsh choices still faced by victims of abuse or sexual violence in Jordan.

In a key step toward reform, the kingdom is now poised to abolish a provision that exempts a rapist from punishment if he marries his victim. Jordan's parliament is expected to do so in a special session sometime after the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan next week.

Women's rights advocates say repealing Article 308 would be a victory, but that more work lies ahead in a society with deeply rooted customs of patriarchy and a legal system that often goes easy on the male perpetrators. "It's about the patriarchal mentality in a society that never punishes the man or shames him for anything," said Asma Khader, a lawyer and activist.

The "marry the rapist" provision has been repealed in Egypt and Morocco, but remains on the books in Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Algeria and the Palestinian territories, according to the international group Human Rights Watch.

Judge Jehad al-Duradi, who handles sexual violence cases at Jordan's main criminal court, said women who agree to marry their attackers often act out of desperation. The judge cited the case of the 15-year-old who was raped by her sister's husband. At the pregnant teen's request, the judge approved a marriage between the rapist and his victim. The rapist escaped punishment and expelled his new wife from his home on the day of the wedding, leaving her to fend for herself and her child, the judge said.

Several other Jordanian laws allow lenient treatment of those who kill or assault women. One provision lightens punishment if a man kills his wife or another female relative for allegedly having sex outside marriage. Another article says a convicted killer could receive as little as a year in prison if he acts in a "state of great fury resulting from an unlawful and dangerous act" by the victim.

If the victim's family drops a complaint, even that one-year minimum can be cut in half. Some perpetrators in Jordan have been jailed for as little as six months for killing a daughter or sister.

Al-Duradi said Jordanian courts have imposed harsher punishment for such crimes in recent years; no convicted killer has received a sentence of less than 10 years in prison since 2010. "The text of the law hasn't changed, but the interpretation has," the judge said.

Jordan's main criminal court heard 182 rape cases in 2015 and 168 in 2016. It also dealt with 39 slayings of women in 2015, including nine labeled "honor crimes." In 2016, there were 36 killings, including eight honor cases.

The actual numbers are believed to be higher, with many assaults going unreported, said Samar Muhareb, director of a legal aid group. Communities prefer to handle such crimes in tribal arbitration to avoid public shame. "Whenever we see informal justice, it's at the expense of women," Muhareb said.

Meanwhile, Jordanian authorities often detain at-risk women. A decision on protective custody can be made by a provincial governor, without court approval. Detention typically continues until the woman's family promises not to harm her, or until she finds a man to marry her.

Fidaa, 25, has repeatedly ended up in prison, following a chain of events that began with her divorcing an abusive husband when she was just 15 years old. Angered by the divorce, one of her brothers stabbed and seriously wounded her.

The brother was sentenced to five years in prison, but the then-teen also ended up behind bars. Desperate to get out of protective custody, she married a 27-year-old man, only to be forced into prostitution. Her new husband threatened to alert her brother to her whereabouts if she refused to work as a prostitute, Fidaa said in an interview at the Juweida women's prison on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Fidaa, a petite woman with dark hair and a quiet demeanor, complied for three years. She eventually managed to leave her husband with help from the police's family protection unit. Ten years after her first detention, Fidaa is back in prison. She was arrested in January, during a police raid of a brothel where she said she had found refuge after befriending some of the women there. Fidaa has been cleared of prostitution charges, but is again unable to leave detention without a sponsor. "If my brothers know about what happened, they will slaughter me," said Fidaa, who only gave her first name for fear of repercussions.

Sadeq al-Omari, a senior official in the prison system, said protective custody is often the only solution, adding that "the right to life is more important than the right to freedom." Plans to set up shelters with police protection have not materialized so far, he said.

In the meantime, authorities imprison the female victim rather than potential perpetrators because there are too many male relatives who might hurt her, he said. "Should I put 20 people in prison for one person's protection?" al-Omari said.

Legislator Wafa Bani Mustafa said change begins with legal reform. "If we can change the law so that it's no longer a solution to get rid of the girl this way, we can encourage families to treat their daughters as victims, not as a source of shame," she said. "If we cancel the legal umbrella, society will follow."

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 20, 2017 5:16 am 
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El Salvador, Guatemala lawmakers pass bans on child marriage
By MARCOS ALEMAN
18 August 2017

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- El Salvador and Guatemala have joined a trend in clamping down on child marriage by passing legislation that would outlaw marriage with minors.

Legislation passed in both countries Thursday to ban such unions even in cases of parental consent or pregnancy. An El Salvador government survey in 2015 found that there were 22,361 minors between the ages of 12 and 17 who had married or lived in a common-law relationship. Six out of 10 of the minors who were in a relationship with an adult lived in the country's rural areas.

Zaira Navas, director of El Salvador's National Council on Childhood and Adolescence, said the previous law had allowed adults to avoid legal charges for sexual assault through marriage.

The United Nations' children's advocate UNICEF and other supporters applauded the change. "El Salvador's move to ban child marriage is great news, and an important step forward in the effort to end child marriage in Latin America and around the world," said Heather Barr, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. She said El Salvador was among the countries that committed under the 2016 Sustainable Development Goals to end child marriage by 2030.

"In many countries, there is a serious gap between laws on child marriage and enforcement - so it will be important to see what steps the El Salvador government will take to make sure that the new law translates into change on the ground and better protection for girls," Barr said in an email Friday.

The legislation in Guatemala, which will go into effect in a month, eliminates a provision that allowed judges to authorize marriages between adults and children 16 and older. Leonel Dubon, director of the Childhood Refuge, which cares for abused children, predicted it would help change prevalent macho attitudes. "A cultural pattern exists that permits giving girls to adults," Dubon said. "They continue seeing girls as objects of pleasure and not as having rights."

The new laws are part of a regional trend in Central America. In July, Honduras' legislature also unanimously passed a bill prohibiting the marriage of anyone younger than 18 even with parental consent or in pregnancy cases. Barr said Costa Rica has also reformed its laws on the issue.

According to UNICEF, 11 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 in Latin America and the Caribbean are currently married or in a union.

Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman in Mexico City and Sonia Perez D. in Guatemala City contributed to this report.
Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 03, 2017 3:50 pm 
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Child marriage increasing in civil war-torn South Sudan
By SAM MEDNICK
29 August 2017

RUMBEK, South Sudan (AP) -- "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." In the past year, Karkon said, the rate of child marriage has gone above the typical 60 percent mark in the "destitute" state of Rumbek and surrounding areas. While walking through the market at the end of July, Karkon saw at least three child marriages being performed in one afternoon. He said it is "alarming."

While child marriage is widely practiced, it's particularly prevalent in the Lakes State and Bahr el Ghazal regions, predominantly ethnic Dinka pastoralist areas where cattle carry economic and cultural importance. Cows are used for payments and dowries, which Human Rights Watch call a "key driver of child marriage" as families see daughters as a source of wealth. "South Sudan's conflict, which has been characterized by rampant sexual violence against women and girls, continues to normalize violence against women and girls, including child marriage," said Agnus Odhiambo, a senior researcher with the rights group.

Eliza said she had no idea what marriage was. She only knew she was miserable and terrified. "The worst part was having sex," she said, looking at the floor. "I didn't know what he wanted from me and it was so painful." Two years into her marriage, at age 15, Eliza gave birth to a daughter. As the youngest of her husband's five wives, she said he neglected her and the baby, never providing medicine. After a few years of marriage, Eliza's father took her back. The husband hadn't paid the dowry and her father didn't like the way she was being treated.

Eliza is now studying to be a doctor, but she is the exception. Three other child brides from Rumbek who were forced to marry around the same time remain with their husbands, she said.

Even though the law defines a child as anyone below 18 and says every child has the right to be protected from early marriage, UNICEF's South Sudan office told AP that because it doesn't explicitly state what early marriage means, the "law is potentially open to interpretation." South Sudan's leaders should "choose to prioritize legislation that explicitly sets 18 as the minimum age of marriage," said Human Rights Watch.

In theory, the government's message to families is to keep daughters in school, but Karkon, the local humanitarian official, says that is not a priority. "Right now the government is focusing on humanitarian aid for food. They don't have time for this," he said.

Some aid groups and local institutions are making efforts to reduce child marriage instead. "Poverty is pushing people into situations they might not have had to be in before," says Sister Orla Treacy, head of the Irish-run Loreto Secondary School in Rumbek, the region's only all-girls boarding school. Treacy and her staff require each girl's guardian to sign a form promising not to remove the child from school until she has graduated. So far, it appears to be working. When the policy began in 2008, 50 percent of the girls were being taken out of the school for early marriage. Now the number stands at less than 2 percent.

The school still lost at least three girls to forced marriage late last year, and recently one student arrived with stitches in her head after her brother beat her for refusing to marry. The girl was able to continue studying, but others aren't as fortunate. In one of the many cattle camps outside Rumbek, 17-year-old Amat cleans the manure from a pen with her bare hands. When asked about her marriage she laughs nervously, clenches her fists, stares at the ground and says: "We're born to be married."

Source: AP

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