David Thomson, Director of Policy and Programmes, blogs from South Sudan.
Deep-seated poverty and instability just makes children who are already at risk that more vulnerable. Today, when asking why children are being neglected, abandoned, abused and exploited like this in South Sudan, the answer was ‘poverty’ every time. Rising food prices, the conflict on the border and the trade blockade with Sudan all add to this worsening situation.
The Government of South Sudan recently approved a Child Act. This importantly sets out the rights of Sudanese children and their protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation. However, an Act on its own does not protect children. It has to be enacted.
This is where the government faces multiple challenges. With the closure of the oil fields, they have recently set out austerity measures. If we think the impact of austerity measures are bad in the UK then we need to think again. Oil revenues account for 98% of the income for the South Sudanese government. The oil production/transport shutdown has severe impacts on the economic, financial and social stability of the country. Already, visible economic shocks include the rising rate of inflation, fuel shortages, and rising food prices.
The announcement of the government’s austerity budget, cutting overall spending by 25%, has consequences for the protection of children. John Majok, the Director General of Warrap State’s Ministry of Social Welfare explained to me their plans to bring the Child Act to life and then explained that they only have enough budget to cover staff salaries – no running costs whatsoever!
So what does this mean for the most vulnerable children in Warrap State? It means finding local level low cost solutions that ensure adults are aware of their responsibilities and children are protected.
Today I had the opportunity to witness World Vision’s Community Based Child Protection System in action. I met with Akol who is the chairperson of a committee established by World Vision. Akol explained how the committee has been able to raise awareness with communities of child protection, deal with basic cases, refer more complicated cases to World Vision and the state, work with abusers’ families, and provide counselling. He said children are much more aware of their rights and better able to protect themselves. Many community members have reacted well to the messages because Akol and his team are from the same area and are trusted and respected.
Akol spoke about some of the children they are working with: young girls who are are abducted and gang-raped while out collecting firewood in the forest, children neglected as parents seek out ways to survive, young boys sent to work in the local town that end up living on the streets in dangerous conditions, and dangerous traditional practices for six-year-old Dinka boys to become men where their scalps are scarred and their six bottom teeth are pulled out – no clean instruments and just held down by the others.
Hope of reunion
Madut, a 12 year old boy, ended up on the streets in Kuajok. He has lost his family. His mum ran off one night with his siblings, baby twin girls and a younger brother, because she could no longer endure the beatings from her husband. Madut’s father then went to the front line to fight at the border. He never came back, killed in the conflict. Madut waited hoping others in his village would care for and protect him, but no-one did. In desperation Madut then walked five days through the bush to Kuajok town trying to find his mother. She was not there and to survive he found some work and lived on the streets. Late one night, sick and shivering, he found his way to the Child Protection Committees ‘safe space’. With the help of World Vision the committee are tracing his mum who we believe is in the next State. There is hope that Madut will be reunited with his mother and siblings soon.
Later the same day I was swamped by 200 returnee children aged between two and 16 who use the Child Friendly Space set up by World Vision. These returnee children arrived from Khartoum during the last 12 months, many having taken nine to 14 days to travel home. Even though many have at least one parent they are quite lost when they arrive never having actually lived in their homeland. Their parents fled to the North 15 to 20 years ago during the worst of the conflict. These children can now be in a safe space during the day, interact with each other through different fun activities and be supported by trained staff who help them to adjust to their new surroundings. They had one message for the us in the UK: “We greet you and ask that you don’t forget us.” They added: “Please tell the children especially”.
The Dinka people have a saying: “You cannot clap with only one hand”. They are so right – it takes partners to be able to make a difference in the lives of children in some of the toughest and most dangerous parts of the world. Those that support World Vision are critical partners in caring for and protecting children like Madut.
Raw Hope, by World Vision, aims to save and protect children from physical harm, exploitation, and immediate threat in the world’s most dangerous places. Despite the continued instability of their surroundings, your pledge of £10 a month will provide children in these areas with an increased chance of survival, and offer hope for their continued protection. Find out more here