Life on the streets of Juba in Southern Sudan is risky business, especially the growing number of girls who everyday risk violence, trafficking or sexual abuse. At least 1,200 children spend their days in the city's markets, according to a 2009 survey by the French NGO, Children of the World – Human Rights (EMDH). “There are many young girls in town - both Sudanese and from other countries - looking for work that is not readily available,” said Dragudi Buwa, head of office for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Southern Sudan. “Rape is very common in the city's markets.”
Children travel with their families or escape to the regional capital – a booming commercial hub, to find work – shining shoes, collecting water bottles or washing cars to. The opportunities are not as many as people imagine, and when families reach Juba, many parents drink to numb the problems they are facing, leaving their children unprotected. Some of the children go back home at night after their work, but for many, the city's streets, shop verandas and local fields are home.But a handful of aid organisations have teamed up to help make life a little safer for Juba’s street children. Special police units in four police stations across the city have been trained to deal with gender-based violence. Health workers are also to deal with cases of sex abuse, but the region's lack of resources means very few child victims ever make it to court or hospital. The only place in Juba equipped to deal with sexual violence is the teaching hospital.
"Some of these girls - even as young as seven - know so much about sex,” said Cathy Groenendijk, from Confident Children Out of Conflict, which runs a drop-in centre for children from desperately poor homes in Juba. “Either they live in one-room shacks with their parents so they see it, or they are abused by local men and boys." "In an ideal world, we would have child protection units in every division in Juba so that child abuse is immediately reported and dealt with," Groenendijk told United Nations news service, IRIN. "We would have child play areas so the kids wouldn't have to play in the local graveyards. But we are still a long way away from that vision."
Sudan is preparing for a complicated set of elections in April. Southern Sudan's long conflict with the north, over differing ideas about ethnicity, religion and politics, killed an estimated 2 million and drove 4 million from their homes.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children