South Sudan one year on - Statement by UNICEF Representative Dr. Yasmin Haque
“It is now one year since South Sudan gained independence, July 9, 2011. On this first anniversary, UNICEF urges the rights and well-being of children to be made an urgent priority. Half of the population of South Sudan is under the age of 18. This alone should be sufficient to justify the need for greater investments in children for them to realize their optimal growth and stability.
South Sudan is grappling with multiple crises, compounding existing challenges. With the oil shut down, on-going influx of refugees, government initiated austerity measures, severe food insecurity, to the continued threat of conflict - - there is more need than ever to protect and realise the rights of children of South Sudan.
The foundation of a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan can only happen if we invest in the country's youngest citizens. They need to be everyone's priority so that the next generation can play an active and meaningful part in building this new nation. The measurement of progress must be in concrete results for children. We need more children to survive beyond their fifth birthday, to have a chance to go to school and be protected from violence and conflict.
The country inherited some of the worst social indicators for children including high maternal and infant mortality, high rates of illiteracy and malnutrition, and very limited infrastructure, making it one of the riskiest places in the world for a child to be born.
Seventy per cent of children aged between 6-17 years have never set foot in a class room, and the completion rate in primary schools is less than 10 per cent, one of the lowest in the world. Girls remain particularly disadvantaged when it comes to their opportunity to enrol and are vulnerable to harmful social practices of early marriage and early child bearing. Despite a decrease in under five mortality, an estimated one in nine children die before their fifth birthday and twenty per cent are malnourished.
Water, sanitation and hygiene underpin many of children’s fundamental human rights and ultimately national development, but only 13 per cent have access to adequate sanitation.
In the last year, the Government with support from UNICEF and development partners have, sought to establish critically needed infrastructure in the social sector, while also prioritizing capacity building and initiating the process of reversing adverse trends in child development.
UNICEF is providing new sources of water, rehabilitating old sources and establishing a centralized data system allowing for greater information sharing. In five years, there has been a 40 per cent increase in access to improved sources of drinking water. Over the past year efforts have been intensified to ensure that children in some of the more disadvantaged schools have a friendlier learning environment, and the focus on ensuring that children remain protected from preventable diseases.
Outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan continue to have an impact on children. Since the end of 2010, more than 400, 000 South Sudanese have returned to the country from Sudan. UNICEF has been active in the reintegration efforts and is supporting a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries on the protection of separated and unaccompanied children of South Sudanese origin who have been identified in Sudan, ensuring that the interests of children remain paramount.
Children are still bearing the brunt on many fronts and we have had to maintain a continued front line response to the humanitarian situation caused by conflict and displacement. The children of this country deserve a better future and it is critical that long term predictable investment is available and translates into real gains for them.”