As the world unites to support refugees this World Refugee Day, Plan International Australia is calling for the protection and safety of children caught up in the crisis in Sudan, with particular concerns for separated or unaccompanied children, especially girls and young women, who are more vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and sexual violence.
The crisis in Sudan has already displaced 1.8 million people inside the country, while more than 450,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries such as South Sudan, Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic.
Girls who are forcibly displaced face an abrupt halt in their education which increases their risk of dropping out of school. Girls who are forcibly displaced, along with girls in host communities also face the increased risks of gender-based violence and harmful practices which have severe physical, psychological, and social impacts, ranging from physical injuries, including unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions to impacts on their mental health such as anxiety, depression and other trauma-based health issues.
Hala*, 11, and her two younger brothers aged 6 and 8 recently fled to South Sudan with their grandmother. “I can’t go far from my grandmother. Even at night, I sleep with her because I have nightmares. I don’t know if I will ever be able to see my school and teacher again. All my friends also left Khartoum and I don’t know where they are. I miss them so much,” she said.
Mother-of-four Nyakriir escaped Sudan’s capital Khartoum with her family and are currently in Malakal, in neighbouring South Sudan. “We are sleeping under trees with other families in a yard. We are facing many issues in terms of accessing food, water and shelter,” explains Nyakriir.
She says she and her daughters are fearful as they have to share their living space with men they do not know, use the same toilets and sleep on the same mats.
Plan International Australia is working to deliver life-saving assistance to children and their families whose lives have been devastated by the Sudan crisis, with a focus on the needs of adolescent girls – scaling up humanitarian operations both in Sudan and in neighbouring countries, particularly along the borders of Egypt and South Sudan, to which many have fled.
The response has so far been focused on providing children and their families with cash, food, clean water, and other critical basic supplies, including menstrual health products; while over the coming weeks child protection, education, and protection from sexual gender-based violence for girls under 18 years will be scaled up, including prevention and response to child marriage.
“Through this crisis, humanitarian needs are multiplying by the hour. People who have been forced to flee have left with whatever they can carry – they urgently need shelter, protection, food, water and medical assistance, and emotional care and support,” said Roger Yates, Plan International Regional Director for Middle East, Eastern and Southern Africa.
Plan International Australia Chief Executive Susanne Legena said becoming a refugee places children and young people at heightened risk of violence, exploitation and neglect.
“Due to their age and gender, adolescent girls in particular face discrimination in accessing services due to their age and sex, along with increased and unique risks of sexual and gender-based violence, including child marriage and early and unwanted pregnancy,” Ms Legena said.
“Thousands of children are witnessing the horror of this crisis. We are concerned that this violence will take a heavy mental toll on the mental health of children, young people, and their caregivers for many years to come.
“This World Refugee Day, we are calling on governments to ensure the protection of Sudanese children displaced internally within Sudan, along with those displaced as refugees in neighbouring countries, particularly girls and young women, against violence, exploitation and abuse.”
Australians can donate to Plan International Australia’s Sudan Appeal here: https://plan-international.org/emergencies/sudan-appeal/
*Name has been changed for protection.