South Sudan: UNICEF Says it Fears for the Future of the Country’s Children
By Henry Neondo
JUBA---South Sudan is about to mark one year anniversary since breaking away from domination by her northern neighbour, but continued threat of conflict, influx of refugees, severe food insecurity and austerity measures announced by the government are having a toll of the well being of children.
The country inherited some of the worst social indicators 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.
According to Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, 70 per cent of children between 6-17 years have never set foot in a class room, and the completion rate in primary schools is barely 10 per cent, one of the lowest in the world.
Girls, he adds, remain particularly disadvantaged when it comes to their opportunity to education 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,” he said.
"Children are still bearing the brunt on many fronts and we have had to maintain a continued frontline response to the humanitarian situation caused by conflict and displacement.” said Dr. Haque. "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.”
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.
UNICEF calls for the rights and well-being of children to be made an urgent priority in the development of the country as the one year anniversary of the independence of South Sudan approaches. With half the population under the age of 18, greater investments in children are vital for South Sudan’s growth and stability.
"The foundation of a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan can be strong only 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," said Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. "The measurement of progress must be in terms of concrete results for children. We need to improve children’s chances to survive beyond their fifth birthday, to have a chance to go to school and to be protected from violence and conflict."
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.
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.