It has been said that the main victim of war is the truth. This simplification leaves out the more human side, children, who on either side are those who suffer most from the consequences of conflict. Since the start of the war in South Sudan in 2013, more than 16,000 children have been forced to leave their toys behind and become soldiers.
In South Sudan’s case, concern for those under age must be rigorous, since after almost 4 years of fighting, the losses within this portion of the population have been in the thousands, including those who have died, been injured or been displaced (within or outside the region).
The South Sudanese war crosses all tolerable limits and on various occasions has led to results that directly affect the general population, especially women and children, those considered most vulnerable in society under these circumstances.
During the conflict, that has destroyed the very foundations of the country’s infrastructure, more than a million children fled as refugees to neighbouring states, according to statistics from UNICEF and the High Commissioner of the United Nations Refugee Agency (ACNUR).
“The dreadful statistics that show how one in five children in South Sudan have been forced to flee their homes, demonstrates how devastating this conflict has been for those most vulnerable in the country”, stated Leila Pakkala, Regional director of UNICEF for East and South-East Africa, after also pointing out that another million find themselves displaced within their own country.
This situation is also seen as a tragedy for those performing humanitarian work, as whilst the quality of life in the country declines quickly, nutritional provision becomes a fairy tale. Infant malnutrition, for example, increases hugely whilst the extreme weather facilitates the extinction of this part of the population. Wartime began in December 2013 between those loyal to President Salva Kiir and those standing with ex vice president Riek Machar.
The conflict is a political one, whose basis lies economically in the ability to take control of the plentiful oil sources in the country. The war also complicates the position between the Dinka and Nuer people in terms of their native status.
More than a thousand children were assassinated or have suffered injuries since the start of the war, according to figures, which could be much lower due to difficulties sourcing and verifying information.
According to the United Nations, children account for 62% of the more than 1.8 million South Sudanese refugees, with the majority of those people arriving in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Additionally, more than 75,000 of these young people crossed from South Sudan to these countries alone or separated from their families.
“The child refugees are becoming the face of this tragedy and it is very worrying. All of us who work in the humanitarian community need to save their lives urgently, committedly and with ongoing support”, declared Valentín Tapsoba from the African office of ACNUR.
In the same way, the UN points out that the trauma, physical deformities, fear and stress suffered by so many children is only one part of the burden handed out by the South Sudanese crisis, furthermore, on losing any type of shelter, they can become victims of domestic violence (and slavery), sexual abuse and exploitation. Moreover, the war in South Sudan has forced 75% of children to stop attending school.
Confirmed by UNICEF, since the start of this year a total of 650 children have been recruited as child-soldiers which shows an increase with regards to the activity of military groups. This fits in with the apparent willingness of both sides to continue with fighting, even though they initiated a Peace Process in 2015, one which has been continually violated.
With this plan to defuse tensions in South Sudan, in 2015 UNICEF confirmed the demobilisation of 1,775 child soldiers, one of the largest measures of this type, but the return to war thwarted any advances in this area.
Various religious missions characterise the horror of this conflict as one of the worst tragedies of present times and to argue their case, refer to how harmful the environment is to children, whose poor health increases the likelihood of contracting contagious diseases.
The war is accompanied by a scarcity of food: “Conflict and starvation in South Sudan are having devastating effects on the youngest”, confirms the Salesian Mission in Gumbo, in the capital of the country, Juba.
Figures from humanitarian organizations linked with the UN, indicate that more than 1 million South Sudanese children are undernourished and more than 2 million have fled their homes in order to survive war, a war which started away from prying eyes and one fixated on destroying children.
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Francine Morgan – E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)