The situation of children in war-torn South Sudan has worsened since the beginning of the year, with sustained recruitment, primarily of boys but also girls, by armed forces and groups amid severe malnutrition and flight, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today.
It is estimated overall that 16,000 children have been forcibly recruited since the conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President Machar erupted two years ago, and the killings, abductions and sexual abuse of youngsters have continued throughout the country, UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac told the regular bi-weekly news briefing in Geneva.
A quarter of million children under the age of five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, double the rate of two years ago, and despite the signing of a peace agreement in August, the situation of children remains grave, he stressed.
Nearly 1,500 children have been killed, around 900,000 have been internally displaced and 650,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.
In June UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake warned that violence against children in South Sudan had reached a new level of brutality. “The details of the worsening violence against children are unspeakable, but we must speak of them,” he said, citing reports that boys have been castrated and left to bleed to death and girls as young as 8 have been gang raped and murdered.
“Children have been tied together before their attackers slit their throats...Others have been thrown into burning buildings,” he added.
Addressing the briefing by phone from Juba, South Sudan’s capital, the UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War, Ishmael Beah, said the only reason children joined armed groups was because it was the only choice they had left to protect themselves, to have access to basic necessities. For many, war was the only way to even live, he added.