As tens of thousands of people flee their homes to escape the violence, the charity estimates that as many as 60% of the displaced are children. When separated from their families, Save the Children is particularly concerned that some youngsters could be recruited into the fighting. The charity’s country director in South Sudan told the Guardian “the threat of recruitment increases with the intensity of the conflict – just as our ability to protect children is being undermined”.
Displaced children are also at risk in areas with which they are unfamiliar. After the long decades of civil war, many land mines and unexploded devices lay buried across South Sudan. According to the charity, one boy recently died when a mine exploded in the South Sudanese border town of Bentiu. Four of the boy’s friends, aged between nine and 14 years, were injured in the explosion. In the nearby town of Rubkona, another 16 year-old was hurt when a grenade exploded.
After the 2005 peace agreement in South Sudan, the United Nations (UN) removed many land mines which had been buried during the decades of fighting. Now, in border regions, military groups are once again active in laying land mines. Therefore the risk to children is increasing day by day.
With the ongoing instability, thousands of children are also once again missing out on schooling. Already in South Sudan, only half the country’s children are enrolled in primary school and fewer than 5% manage to complete their primary education. Following the long years of war, illiteracy is extremely high – an estimated 85% of South Sudanese adults are unable to read and write.
The United Nations (UN) Security Council has called on both countries to end the hostilities and resume negotiations over outstanding issues, such as border disputes and oil transit fees. A two-day deadline given to the two countries to end the fighting or face sanctions is due to expire. But both sides accuse the other of carrying out fresh attacks and not complying with the UN resolution. Each country also accuses the other of supporting rebel groups on their territories. Unless the two governments can be brought back to the negotiating table, more vulnerable communities will be caught in the crossfire and the hopes of building a prosperous and peaceful new nation in South Sudan will already have been dashed.