South Sudan, 16 June 2014: A call for peace by children
16 June 2014, Juba – Marking the anniversary of the Day of the African Child, children in South Sudan urged their leaders to find a peaceful solution to the conflict that has plagued the world’s youngest nation since December. Children around the country took part in events to promote peace, with 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 were able to address their country’s leaders.
Since the onset of the conflict, children in South Sudan have suffered dreadfully. More than half of the approximately 1.5 million people who have been forced to flee their homes because of the 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 unless they can be reached with treatment.
“Children in South Sudan should today 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. 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. At Independence South Sudan’s children were promised education and a chance to fulfil their potential; today leaders must at the very least provide peace.”
Celina Peter, Director of Child Welfare in the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare underlined the call for peace and the need for children to have access to education. “Discussing issues of education while calling for peace in such critical times as these, when our society is continually threatened by the insecurities and emergencies, may appear to be unpractical and unrealizable,” she said, “I nonetheless 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 the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, told the UN Security Council that by the end of this year, half of South Sudan’s 12 million people will either be in flight, facing starvation, or dead. 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. The conflict has compounded all such problems. In addition, 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. At the end of the day, children need peace to grow, to develop, and to make South Sudan great. Children are calling for peace, and for education. The parties to the conflict of South Sudan must listen.”
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.
It is a message reiterated by Garang, a young boy now living with others displaced by fighting in Mingkaman: “I am only twelve, there is nothing much I can do to change my situation, but our leaders can do something,” said Garang “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 want to live a normal life again and be the child that I am. I don’t want to spend sleepless nights worrying about gunshots or about not going to school. I want a good future for myself, my family and my country. All I want is peace.”
Notes to the editor
The Day of the African Child (DAC) is commemorated every year on June 16 by Member States of the African Union, and its Partners. The commemoration is an occasion to recall 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. The DAC further presents an opportunity to reflect on the realities of children in Africa. It allows caregivers to focus on the work of all actors committed to the rights of children in the continent and to consolidate their efforts to address obstacles for realizing the rights of children.
The DAC also provides an occasion for Governments, international institutions and communities to renew their on-going commitments towards improving the situation of the marginalized in general and particularly vulnerable children, and to raise awareness. These stakeholders organize activities and programmes to improve the situation of all children and to include those who require special care.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org.visit: http://www.unicef.org/southsudan
For further information, please contact:
Doune Porter, Chief of Strategic Communications, UNICEF South Sudan
Mercy Kolok, Communication Officer, UNICEF South Sudan
Celina Peter, Director of Child Welfare, Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare