A child assembles toys made out of clay, these include a war tank and helicopter gunship [Gurtong photo]
By Emmanuel Kenyi
Today the world celebrates International Youth Day but South Sudan is on the brink of losing its entire young population. Engulfed by violent conflict, South Sudanese children are now forced to make desperate journeys to find safety instead of attending school. Since 2013, 1.61 million people have been internally displaced over 720,000 refugees in neighbouring countries.
The country has surely turned its back to its children, more than 900,000 children, have been displaced in the country, with 1.8 million children, or 51 per cent of school-age children out of school, making South Sudan a country with the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world. Reports suggest an estimated 16,000 children had been recruited by armed groups between 2013 and 2015. With the recent outbreak of fighting in Juba and other areas this number could be much more.
South Sudan has great potential to grow owing to its large youth population but this depends on how it treats its children. Mandela was also known for his deep love of children. In his speech at a ‘National Men’s March’ in 1997, Late Nelson Mandela said, “…our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.” Mandela’s words speak directly to the plight of vulnerable children in war-ravaged South Sudan today, where UNICEF described the violence against children by armed groups as “unspeakable”.
I had a chance to visit the UN Protection of Civilian (POC) sites housing over 38,000 internally displaced people in Juba after the recent violent conflict and a father came to us and showed us an empty plate saying in a loud voice repeatedly “we want food and medicines, our children are dying.” Around the camp children are not going to school and the only thing they can do is to gather in one tent and pretend they are in class and sing and play for hours before returning to their tents.
Finally what killed my spirit was to see a group of children between 3-6 years old molding different types of guns, helicopter gunships, Land Cruisers mounted with machineguns tanks and soldiers shooting their guns, made out of mud. I asked myself where is the future of my country? If my young brothers and sisters are molding guns instead of going to school.
Kuany* 20years told me “I have not seen life out of the POC since I came in this camp in 2013. I don’t know what is going on out there; I don’t know how long I am going to stay here. I cannot go to school and interact with my friends out there.”
Peace must be found, guns must go silent. The world must come to our rescue otherwise there will be no one to fly the flag of South Sudan in the future. The children of South Sudan are battling many fronts, violence, forced displacement, hunger diseases and a lack of education.
The children of South Sudan are bearing the heavy burden created by their own parents and this should not be a death sentence for what is not their own making, the world must act now.
Call to action
- Guns must go silent and the country must immediately implement the peace agreement to allow children to return to school and begin their childhood
- Increased funding to allow humanitarian assistance to the affected population
- An end to all forms of violence against children, including forced recruitment into armed groups, and the occupation and closure of schools