South Sudan: Conflict leaves thousands of children orphaned and alone
Since the conflict broke out in South Sudan last December, some 380,000 children have been forced to flee their homes. Many of them have either lost their parents or have been separated from them and have been left to survive on their own. Aid agencies are working across the country to reunite lost children with their families.
“Children have born the brunt of the conflict in South Sudan,” said Zeinab Osman, a case worker with the Italian charity, InterSOS. “Since violence erupted four months ago, many children have been uprooted from their homes, many into the bush and others into UN peacekeeping bases.”
In the capital Juba, about 4,000 children are sheltering in one UN camp alone.
“Ten families have sheltered me”
Fifteen-year-old John Mawien is one of these children. He lost both his parents when they were killed in the conflict, and has no relatives to take care of him. Daily life is a struggle. He has lived with more than 10 different families over the past four months.
“Life is not easy,” said John. “I am used to eating better food, to sleeping in better accommodation. But that is not the biggest problem for me. I am worried about my relatives in Bentiu.”
Earlier this month, more than 200 civilians were killed in a massacre in Bentiu, a small town in Unity State in the north of South Sudan, and now nearly 23,000 people have sought protection in the UN peacekeeping base there.
Many relatives missing
Gambella Thut Deng is another teenager sheltering in the UN base. Gambella arrived to Juba from Jonglei in eastern South Sudan with three of his siblings in early December to live with their uncle, so that they could attend school in 2014. On 15 December – the day the conflict started – their uncle went to work. He never came back.
The children have no news of what has happened to their uncle, and are also worried about their parents back home in the village Akobo in Jonglei State. Fighting was intense there in the first weeks of the crisis.
Gambella and John are just two of the thousands of children living in displacement sites around South Sudan who have lost contact with family members and who are desperately concerned about the whereabouts and wellbeing of their relatives.
“Reunifying separated children with family members is a huge challenge for partners because of wide spread conflict and displacement in many parts of the country,” said Susan Matthew, a Child Protection Officer with InterSOS.
20,000 children reached
InterSOS and 22 other aid agencies are working in the UN base in Juba and other sites across the country, trying to help children like Gambella and John. They are helping children to trace their family members and, when possible, to reunite them with parents or caregivers. They are also opening child-friendly spaces, offering safe environments in the bases for children to play, as well as providing psycho-social support to those who are suffering from trauma.
Since the beginning of the year, aid workers have provided services for about 20,000 children.