Nothing about us without us

UNICEF hosts stakeholder consultations to create child-focused situation analysis on women and children

By Murugi Murekio
A group of children and a woman
UNICEF South Sudan/2020/Ruati
21 December 2020

“The dream I have for South Sudan is to have a sustainable peace, where young people and children go to school and where child marriage is behind us.”

– a UNICEF Child Reporter

To place children and adolescents firmly at the centre of the South Sudan country programme, UNICEF has hosted seven external consultations to get the views of a wide range of stakeholders about the situation of women and children in South Sudan.

On 8 December, the UNICEF team held a consultation in the capital Juba with participation of government representatives from the ministries of Finance and Planning, Education, Health, Water and Irrigation, Gender, Child and Social Welfare as well as organizations representing people with disability and participants from the UNICEF Child Reporters Programme. Additional stakeholder consultations included national journalists, civil society organisations, UN, donors and people with disability. 

Speaking at the event, Under-Secretary of Ministry of Finance and Planning, Ocum Genes Karlos, said that the Government has prioritized education, water and health in the National Development Strategy (NDS) 2018-2021.

“This is the first time I am sitting with different stakeholders including school children. It has been a good opportunity to exchange our views,” he says. “We hope to conclude the review of the NDS in 2021. I encourage these meetings to take place on a regular basis so that next time we can look back on what we have achieved and have not.”

The consultations for the new Situation Analysis on Women and Children in South Sudan began on 23 October. This document is important because it provides the basis for the programmes UNICEF will be implementing in the future.  

“To inform the new Situation Analysis about women and children, we felt it was very important to consult government counterparts, journalists, civil society and NGOs, UN partners, people with disabilities and very importantly, also children and young people,” says Hyun Hee Ban, Chief Social Policy, Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation for UNICEF in South Sudan.

children seated around a boardroom table
UNICEF South Sudan/2020/Ruati
Child reporters during the consultations in Yambio

Children at the centre

“To write the report, we need the voices of children to tell us what is important, what excites them, what hopes they have for the future,” says Hyun Hee.

To that end, the team has held two separate consultations with child reporters in Juba (8) and Yambio (13).

UNICEF South Sudan’s Chief of Communication, Yves Willemot, says that children are the best spokespeople for their rights and concerns.

“We have a duty to create meaningful engagement opportunities between children and policy makers and in the decision-making process,” he adds. “By involving the children, we have listened, co-created and collaborated with them in shaping the Situation Analysis.”

Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, several recurring themes have emerged from the child reporters’ consultations. The children are ages 12 to 18 years old, both girls and boys, and are from different socio-economic backgrounds.

In education, the children lauded the many steps that have been taken to reduce school dropout rates. However, they are alarmed that the COVID-19 school closures have rolled back the gains.

Some of the key concerns raised are lack of radios to listen to radio lessons, school dropouts due to lack of school fees, teacher shortage, failure to complete the curriculum and ill-equipped science laboratories and libraries. Child Reporters  also highlight that children with disabilities are neglected and their education is not prioritized. The children would like to have more and better trained teachers, more books in libraries and well-equipped science laboratories.

“Education is the key to success and here the structures are very weak. Children complete high school and cannot access higher education,” says one Child Reporter.

For many Child Reporters empowerment of girls is a priority. Within the context of COVID-19 the children say that early pregnancies increased because of school closures, as did early marriages. They also highlighted sexual harassment by teachers and HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections are widespread. Children are calling for the implementation of laws to protect young girls from sexual and gender-based violence.

“If girls do not get an education how can they improve their lives in the future?” asks another Child Reporter.

Despite the immense challenges ahead of them, the children remain hopeful.

 “Time is needed for things to change dramatically in South Sudan. But children and local communities can play their part, through unity and connection.”

The consultations are a retrospective look at the situation of children in South Sudan over the last three years. The previous update was completed in 2017.  The insights have been very rich and will feed into the 2023 South Sudan Country Programme Document as well as inform the upcoming UN Common Country Analysis which underpins the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework.