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South Sudanese Children Face Great Danger

UNICEF has stated that the children living in South Sudan are currently in great danger of disease and death. The UN Secretary General believes that half of the South Sudanese population will starve, flee or die by the end of this year. Most of the people escaping to neighboring countries are children or women. UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt has expressed concern over the growing “children’s emergency.” South Sudanese children “need humanitarian assistance; they need their leaders to protect their lives, their rights and their futures; and they need the world to listen – and demand action on their behalf.” In mid-December 2013, South Sudan became embroiled in a nationwide conflict that started as a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, who had been forced out of office by Kiir a few months earlier. Since then, the nation has become a “living nightmare for its children.” More than half a million children have escaped, but women and young girls are becoming more susceptible to sexual assault and gender-based violence. Thousands of children have been taken from their families to be recruited into the armed forces for South Sudan’s civil war. Many schools and hospitals are under attack as well. Approximately 80 percent of children under the age of five living in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity (three of the most conflict-ridden states in South Sudan) face increased risk of disease and death. Additionally, the Ministry of Health has reported an outbreak of cholera in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Around 80,000 people have been fully vaccinated, but the number of cholera cases is doubling every day. Given the growing spread of the disease, UNICEF has made efforts to help alleviate the public health issue by establishing a center for cholera treatment, providing triage and medical tents and supplying clean water and oral rehydration solutions. However, the threat of disease is not the only issue facing the South Sudanese children. Over 50,000 children are at risk of dying from malnutrition, and 740,000 children under the age of five suffer from food insecurity. Some are forced to drop out of school in order to spend their days searching for wild leaves, bulbs, grasses and berries to eat. South Sudan, one of the poorest nations in the world, is being pushed “to the brink of famine” as the rate of malnutrition among South Sudanese children continues to increase. Supply routes have been disrupted, doubling the prices of staple crops since the conflicts began. Displaced families are finding difficulty in planting crops ahead of the imminent rainy season. As a result, the expected harvest in September is likely to disappoint, intensifying the war-torn nation’s hunger crisis. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has criticized both Kiir and Machar for their apparent lack of concern for the current state of South Sudan. “How much worse does it have to get before those who can bring this conflict to an end – especially President Kiir and Dr. Machar – decide to do so?” UNICEF has asked for all parties and individuals to “provide unhindered and safe access for humanitarian assistance; and to respect their own agreements to stop the violence against children, sexual and gender-based violence, and the recruitment of children.” – Kristy Liao Sources: The Guardian, The Telegraph, UNICEF, UN News Centre Photo: SOS Children’s Villages