Violence in South Sudan is leading to a children's crisis.
Having just marked its fifth year of independence on July 9, the world’s youngest nation is still grappling with its complex history and an uncertain future. The recent spate of violence that left many dead highlighted the fragility of peace in South Sudan. However, it’s the children that are suffering the most.
Risks such as child marriage, forced labour and recruitment into armed groups remain high for children. On the other hand, there are concerns on the general health and well-being of children. Malnutrition rates among children in South Sudan are above the global threshold.
As Country Director of 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.
We don’t want our children to grow up in fear
Much of the government’s resources have been consumed by the armed conflict. Since December 2013, a large share of donor funds have been channelled to life-saving interventions, leaving little for wider development. In addition, very little has been invested in primary areas such as the education sector further impacting children, particularly girls.
Investing in our youth
Development and humanitarian organisations, such as Plan International, are making efforts to ensure children are supported and protected from the dangers around, and also so they have an opportunity to get an education.
For the past 3 years, we have been providing psychosocial and educational support for children in conflict areas so they can deal with the violence they have 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 programmes 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. Female teachers will serve as role models as well as provide a safe environment where girls can share their social issues freely.
Looking towards the future
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 as well as make their own choices.
To achieve that, the government must commit to its socio-economic promises 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 are looking upon their 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.