South Sudanese children call on leaders to find peace

17 Jun 2014

South Sudanese children call on leaders to find peace

16 June 2014 - Celebrating the Day of the African Child, South Sudanese children urged their leaders today to find a peaceful solution to the conflict that has plagued the country since December.

Children around the country took part in events to promote peace, noted a statement jointly released by the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare.

Their activities included a march through the streets of the capital Juba, drama performances, singing, poetry readings, an exhibition of art about the effects of the conflict, and a round-table discussion where children addressed their country’s leaders.

Since the onset of the conflict, children in South Sudan have suffered dreadfully, the statement said. More than half of the approximately 1.5 million people forced to flee their homes due to fighting are children. Nearly a quarter of a million children under five will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year and as many as 50,000 of those will die without treatment.

“Children in South Sudan should today be celebrating their country’s progress,” said UNICEF Representative in South Sudan Jonathan Veitch, “But instead they are suffering unthinkable, multiple tragedies.”

“Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes,” he said. “Many have lost their parents; thousands have become separated from their families. Others are being recruited by armed groups. They are at risk of disease and famine.”

Celina Peter, Director of Child Welfare in the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare underlined the need for children to have access to education. “I … believe that laying the foundations for peace through education is the most effective and the most constructive way of causing change and ensuring the rights of our children are protected.”

Last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told the Security Council that half of South Sudan’s 12 million people would either be in flight, facing starvation, or dead by the end of this year. Even before the conflict broke out, there was a critical lack of schools and health centres in South Sudan, and children suffered high levels of malnutrition.

Schools and hospitals have been attacked or used by parties to the conflict. Reports of sexual assaults on women and girls are increasing and there are reports that more than 9,000 children are being used by armed groups and armed forces on both sides of the conflict.

“South Sudan’s children suffered years of hunger, poverty, and violence prior to independence,” said Save the Children Country Director Peter Walsh, “They were denied their right to education, to protection, even to survival. South Sudan has a chance to give their children a better future, through investments in health care, education and critically, peace.”

UNICEF urges both parties to uphold the provisions of their cessation of hostilities agreements, to provide unhindered and safe access for humanitarian assistance, and to respect their agreements to stop violence against children, sexual and gender-based violence, and the recruitment and use of children in the conflict.

“I am only twelve, there is nothing much I can do to change my situation, but our leaders can do something,” said Garang, a young boy now living with others displaced by fighting in Mingkaman. “They can decide whether to destroy our future or build the future of this country by investing in the children of South Sudan through education, health care, homes but most of all peace. I don’t want to spend sleepless nights worrying about gunshots or about not going to school.”

The Day of the African Child commemorates the 1976 uprisings in Soweto, when a protest by school children in South Africa against apartheid-inspired education resulted in the brutal and deadly repression of these unarmed young protesters by police officials.