Steering a Path to Family Law in South Sudan

Women at the Masia Market in Yambio, South Sudan. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment, discrimination and crimes within the institution of the family, leading to the re-launched development of a national family law for South Sudan. Photo: UNDP

A new Steering Committee has been launched to drive development of a national family law for South Sudan. This effort is designed to safeguard family matters and domestic relations.

As in most countries, the family is a cornerstone of South Sudan. Yet, women and children are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment, discrimination and crimes within the institution of the family. With the absence of a national family law, women and children have limited legal recourse and access to justice.

“Dynamic societies, as found in South Sudan, need dynamic laws which protect the most vulnerable. Therefore, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare extends its full support and leadership in ensuring that South Sudan develops a comprehensive inclusive family law,” said Hon. Minister Aya Benjamin Warille, during the Steering Committee meeting on 11 November 2020 attended by key stakeholders from the Ministry of Justice, Judiciary of South Sudan, Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Law Review Commission, UNDP, UNMISS, UN Women, UNFPA, academia and civil society organizations.

Steering Committee meeting on re-launching the development process of a national family law for South Sudan, at UNDP on 11 November 2020, in Juba. Photo: UNDP

Legal matters pertaining to the family are currently governed by customary justice which often overlooks the needs of women and children. A woman’s right to choose her spouse, obtain a divorce, protect herself from domestic violence, custody of her children, and inheritance of marital property are just some areas restricted and dependent on the customs of traditional justice.

To address the vulnerabilities of women and children, in 2017, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare in partnership with South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network (SSWEN) put forth a draft for a formal family law for South Sudan. Since then, SSWEN has undertaken consultations across the country to collect the voices, experiences and priorities of the people of South Sudan.

The meeting provided a platform for SSWEN to present the findings of the national consultation process with the members of the Steering Committee. The discussions that followed identified gaps, best practices and next steps, including the need for further consultations with a wider geographical, ethnic and religious scope. The outcomes of the consultations, which were shared in individual reports, further highlighted the diversity of South Sudan in customs and practices.

Going forward, the Steering Committee will meet regularly to ensure the development of the family law moves ahead. UNDP technical specialists will provide legal expertise to support the national process. In addition, UNDP’s Access to Justice, Rule of Law and Human Rights Strengthening project is supporting the development of other legal frameworks, including: Penal Code Act, Evidence Act, Criminal Procedure Code Act, Legal Aid Bill, Interpretation of Laws Act, Police Act, Prison Act, Wildlife Act, National Security Act, Sudanese People Liberation Army Act, Petroleum Act, Banking Act and a draft Anti Gender-based Violence Bill.

“Women’s and children’s welfare are a matter of basic human rights and must therefore be protected. By developing a formal family law, through a participatory people centered process, women and children will have better access to justice and less at risk of being left behind,” said UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Christy Ahenkora.

Learn more about UNDP's work improving access to justice and promoting rule of law in South Sudan.