The report, Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from South Sudan, is based on a survey conducted with 249 girls aged 10 to 19 years in 5 different locations in South Sudan on their daily experiences of survival in the war-torn country. One in four girls interviewed said they considered ending their lives in the last 12 months.
Besides the survey, in-depth discussions were held with girls in South Sudan as well as girls who have crossed the border into Uganda.
The girls have reported facing threats of murder, abduction, rape and sexual assault which often occur when the girls leave their homes to fetch food, water or firewood for their families.
Girls feel unsafe
People can easily be killed or shot dead at night time - Girl, Juba
“I do not feel safe walking around during the day because girls often become victims of rape in the area,” said a girl in Nimule.
About 4 million people have been displaced from the conflict in South Sudan and about 2.4 million of them are children. The UN estimates, almost 2 million girls and women are at risk of gender based violence.
“We will be beaten by unknown people. Because the security is not good a night. People can easily be killed or shot dead at night time,” said a girl from Juba.
Our response must address adolescent girls' unique needs
We are calling for dedicated humanitarian programmes that protect adolescent girls and address the unique challenges they face at multiple levels, as risks faced by adolescent girls in protracted crises are different to those faced by adolescent boys and adult women.
George Otim, Plan International’s Country Director in South Sudan, said: “So far the humanitarian response has not focused enough on the needs of adolescent girls. These girls have endured some of the most horrendous hardships imaginable.
“Without tailored support - which focuses on the needs of adolescent girls - they will continue to face threats of physical and sexual violence.
“If we are to help give these girls some hope for the future we must see an end to the conflict in South Sudan. But while it continues, we need to tailor support around gender and age so that adolescent girls feel safe from violence and can continue with their education.”
Girls are affected physically and mentally
75% of the girls interviewed reported that their state of mind was negatively affected due to the conflict. A third of the girls surveyed said they had been injured as a result of the conflict and 13% said they had been abducted at some point. Local experts who took part in the study attributed much of the mental health difficulties faced by girls to fear or past experiences of physical or sexual violence.
A local NGO official in Torit said depression, isolation and trauma are some of the major mental health issues faced by local girls. “What has caused these is the war because many of them lost their parents during the war, some of their parents were killed right in front of them, and others experienced rape.”
The lack of access to sufficient food is also a huge concern. All adolescent girls who took part in the study were worried about the growing food insecurity and the majority spoke of going to bed hungry.
“Before the conflict, we used to eat three times a day but nowadays we are eating once a day due to money problems,” said a girl in Nimule.
Voices from South Sudan
The report reveals South Sudan’s complex crisis is hitting adolescent girls hard on multiple levels ranging from physical insecurity and food insecurity to consequences for their education and healthcare. Girls shared their experiences of leaving school altogether to help the family generate income or having been forced into marriage.
The overwhelming impact of these multiple barriers is that girls feel they have little hope for the future.
“I am pessimistic about the future because I think things are going to get worse – intense war in the country, rampant sickness among the people, economic crisis, high rate of poverty within the community, poor education system and hospitals,” said a girl in Torit.
The report is part of a series of publications highlighting the plight of adolescent girls in some of the world’s worst protracted emergencies which will be published over the summer of 2018.