Reimagine the future of our country with us

UNICEF 75th anniversary: A message from the children of South Sudan

By Wendy Macar, Helene Allison and Sammy Shahid
Group photo of UNICEF Child Reports and UNICEF staff
UNICEF South Sudan/2021/Hill
08 December 2021

As UNICEF is celebrating its 75th anniversary, we, children of South Sudan, are calling the adults to work with us to build a better future for us and for our country.

We are UNICEF Child Reporters with UNICEF South Sudan. The last two years we have been advocating for the rights of children and campaigning on several issues that matter to us.

First, we want to highlight the importance of peace and security. It is still not guaranteed in our country. Children in our country are afraid to go out in their neighborhood to play with their friends because they might be robbed, beaten or worse. The insecurity affects the overall development of our country. Because of insecurity we cannot move freely. This is very stressful for us. We are unable to meet with our friends and play or practice sport.

Too many of us cannot go to school because we must work at home.  Many girls are married even before they have completed school. It should not be like that. As children, we have the right to education and to health services. We have the right to clean water and to live in a clean environment. Many of us in South Sudan die from diarrhoea, malaria or other diseases. That would not happen if we were able to drink clean water and sleep under a mosquito net.

Half of us in not in school

We children feel that education should always be guaranteed for us! We were very happy when schools reopened in May this year. But we were sad because during the long closure of schools so many girls got pregnant or married, and many children started working on the streets. Many of my friends have not returned to school. They will probably never come back.

Today, more than 2.8 million children in South Sudan are out of school. How can we ever hope to build a prosperous country when half of us is not in school, and more than half of us is involved in some form of child labor that is harmful to us?

Half of all girls in South Sudan is married before the age of 18. We often hear about plans to change that. But what has happened? We cannot continue to say that change will come, in the future. For girls who get married today, their future is ruined from today!

Gender-based violence is widespread in our schools, impacting girls but also boys. When we speak about this to adults, they say they are shocked, but nothing is done to change it. The adults who abuse us are not punished. Children who complain get bad results in school! This is wrong!

Considering all the challenges we face as children, is it a surprise that many of us are concerned about their mental health? Yes, we rarely speak about it. Because when we feel sad adults do not take us seriously. But how can we build a healthy adult life when in our childhood our mental health is completely ignored?

Adults think that we are only concerned about ourselves; that we only complain; that we don’t do anything ourselves. That is not true. Take for instance the issue of climate change. We campaigned for a clean and green environment last year for World Children’s Day. For all of us, not only for children. We children are very concerned about climate change.

Preventing problems is better than treating them

Building a better future for us, is not only about responding to the problems we face, it is also about preventing them from happening. As said keeping us in school will protect us against abuses like early marriage and child labor.

We are also thinking about the younger children in our country, the newborns and infants. Last August we campaigned for breastfeeding as the most effective way to avoid small children becoming malnourished. We all know it is better to prevent a problem than to treat it.

We, children of South Sudan, are concerned about the health of our beautiful country.  Many of us have known the times before independence. As small children we recall the joy our parents had when independence came 10 years ago. We were singing and dancing together with our parents. But what has happened since?

We are discouraged about the many promises that are made and not kept. Planting 10 million trees by 2030 to protect the environment; ending child marriage; training teachers and paying their salaries. What has happened with these and many other promises? Will we have to wait till we are adults to make this happen?

Change is possible, with us

As UNICEF is celebrating 75 years serving children, we are reimagining a better future for the us, the children of South Sudan, without violence and with universal access for all children of South Sudan to basic health care and education.

We believe things can be different. Change is possible. And we children want to be part of this change for the better for us, for you and for our entire nation.

We are doing our work. We are highlighting what we think is important to do, and we are sharing our opinions and ideas with you.

Adults, it is now time for you to act. Do not wait till next year, next month or tomorrow.  Do it now! Because every day lost, is a future lost for many children in South Sudan.