Childhood and education under attack as South Sudan conflict enters fifth year

South Sudanese Boys Play At A School In Yei
South Sudanese boys play at a school in Yei, where the walls are pockmarked with bullet holes. Earlier this year, the number of students had dropped from 780 to just 116 because of the violence. (UNICEF / Hatcher-Moore)

Child soldiers, Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Refugees and internally displaced people, Safe schools, Safe Schools Declaration

Malnutrition, trauma and lack of schooling are among the problems faced by millions of children in the world's newest country.

More than half of South Sudan’s children are victims of the violence and upheaval that has gripped their country for years.

Three million of them don’t have enough food, almost one million are suffering from psychological trauma and two million are out of school in the world’s newest nation.

The education future is looking even worse, according to a report today by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF. It warns that, unless the situation improves, only one in 13 children are likely to finish primary school.

And that’s in a country where 72% already don’t go to school – the highest rate in the world.

“No child should ever experience such horrors and deprivations,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director in Eastern and Southern Africa, “and yet children in South Sudan are facing them on a daily basis. 

South Sudanese Children Get Emergency School Supplies Supplies

Children get emergency school supplies at Kaikuiny primary school in Jonglei State (UNICEF / Maki)

“The children of South Sudan urgently require a peaceful and protective environment. Anything less places children and women at even greater risk of grave violations and abuse.”

Despite the outlook, there are still some signs of encouragement.

Fifteen-year-old Tamam Jany lost his father, friends and neighbours to the conflict. Now he is back in a classroom at a UNICEF-supported school. 

“The education I get will help me become a better person. I want to be a mechanical engineer when I grow up,” he said. 

“My future may seem bleak for now – but with education and hopefully peace in my country, a better day will come for me, for my family and for the people of my country.”

South Sudan Teenager David Sawat Manyang At School In Pachong

David Sawat Manyang, 16, goes to a new school in Pachong near Rumbek. It reopened last year after being closed because of clashes between rival youth groups. (UNICEF / Kealey)

UNICEF’s report – Childhood Under Attack – reveals the full impact on South Sudan’s children since the conflict began in December 2013:

  • Almost three million children severely food insecure and more than one million acutely malnourished
  • 2.4 million forced from their homes
  • Two million children out of school
  • 900,000 children suffering psychological distress
  • Over 19,000 recruited by armed forces or groups
  • More than 2300 killed or injured
  • Hundreds of incidents of rape and sexual assault reported

The report said insecurity, attacks on schools and their use by the armed forces or armed groups have severely affected the education system – along with hunger and displacement.

Increasing numbers of children in countries around the world are faced with their schools being occupied – or even bombed – by military forces.

Theirworld is calling on the world’s most powerful countries – the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – to sign up to the Safe Schools Declaration, a commitment to protect education and stop military use of schools.

In South Sudan, a lack of investment in quality education has also had a major impact. Teachers’ salaries are low and paid irregularly, said UNICEF – and 31% of of them have stopped going to work.

The conflict has led to more than one million South Sudanese fleeing into neighbouring Uganda. In the Nyumanzi refugee settlement, there is a glimmer of hope in the otherwise gloomy picture. 

South Sudanese children there aged from three to six attend an early childhood care and education programme. The charity Plan International has trained 48 caregivers to work with the children.

Teacher Halima Poni – a refugee herself – said: “Here they are given the equivalent of pre-primary education. Despite having basic textbooks, youngsters are taught numbers, oral literature, reading and outdoor activities such as football.”

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