By Daniel Muchena, Country Director, Plan International South Sudan
The violence in South Sudan is leading to a children’s crisis.
Having just marked its five years of independence, the world’s youngest nation is still grappling with its complex history and an uncertain future.
We gained independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 agreement, ending Africa’s longest-running civil war. Over 99% of South Sudanese voted for independence in a historic referendum.
However, five years on, violence is still rife and our country is still struggling. The recent spate of violence that left many dead highlighted yet again how fragile the peace is in South Sudan. Sadly, it’s the children that are suffering the most.
The recent turn of events places already vulnerable children at further risk of abuse and exploitation.
In situations of conflict, there is gross violation of children’s rights – especially their rights to education, health care and protection as well as participation in issues that affect their lives.
The renewed fighting is very worrisome as the situation for children is likely to worsen, making an already difficult situation even more challenging.
Children below the age of 18 account for over 53% of the people in South Sudan. Due to the conflict, the majority of children are out of school and this new wave of violence is set to exacerbate the situation further.
Girls and young women have been among the worst victims of violence. Several were raped and assaulted in the recent spate of fighting.
Risks such as child marriage, being forced into labour and recruitment into armed groups remain high for children. On the other hand, there are concerns on the general health and wellbeing of children. Malnutrition rates among children in South Sudan are above the global threshold.
As Country Director of child rights organisation Plan International South Sudan, I visit communities regularly. The people I talk to say they value their independence – but it’s come at a steep price.
Much of the government’s resources have been consumed by the armed conflict. A large share of the donor funds, since December 2013, have been channelled to life saving interventions, leaving little for wider development.
Very little has been invested in primary areas, such as the education sector. This is further impacting the children, particularly girls.
Development and humanitarian organisations, like Plan International, are making efforts to ensure children are supported and protected from the dangers around, and also have an opportunity to get an education.
Plan International is joining calls for lasting solutions to safeguard the lives of innocent children caught up in the fighting, as well as providing life-saving support in the conflict areas of Lakes and Jonglei states, including food assistance and agricultural support.
As a whole, we want to see this country succeed so that children and young people can enjoy a brighter future.
For the past three years, we have been providing educational and psychosocial support for children in conflict areas so they can deal with the violence they’ve witnessed and regain a sense of normality by attending our ‘child-friendly spaces’, where they can play and be around other children. We are running dedicated education programs for former child soldiers and children who have missed years of schooling for various reasons, including displacement due to violence.
In the stable states of Central and Eastern Equatoria, we are working hard to provide educational support as well as livelihood assistance and training on disaster risk reduction and child protection.
To ensure the country can develop, it is essential young people have opportunities to develop their skills so they can get a job and contribute to their country in the future. We are particularly focused on training female teachers, with the view to encourage girls to take education seriously. The female teachers will serve as role models as well as provide a safe environment where the girl child will relate their social issues freely.
Having so fiercely fought for independence, we all desperately want the situation in South Sudan to improve – this is a country that deserves to succeed and is endowed with lots of resources both human and material. We don’t want our children to grow up in fear. We want them to grow up feeling safe and hopeful about the future and able to make their own choices.
To achieve that, the government must commit to improving the economy, provide social services, increase food production, create new jobs and, most importantly, invest in the education of children.
While refugees and humanitarian crises are not new for South Sudan, I can’t stress enough that it is children that suffer the most in these situations. That’s why their need for education, protection and psychosocial care, must be central to relief and recovery efforts and any further violence must stop.
The children of South Sudan and are looking upon their leaders, government and the international community. They want a nation where they can learn, lead, decide and thrive. This is one dream that must become a reality.
You can support children in times of crisis. Learn more about our work in South Sudan and donate today.