Tom Hiddleston, a Unicef Ambassador, traveled to South Sudan in November to visit areas affected by the civil war, which continues to destroy the lives of large numbers of children across the country, according to Unicef. Hiddleston previously visited South Sudan in 2015.
Mid-December marked three years of conflict in the country.
Economic collapse, a reduced harvest, a cholera outbreak, and a worsening security situation have all contributed to a severe nutrition crises for children, particularly in the areas facing renewed fighting and displacement. Over 170,000 children have been treated for malnutrition in 2016.
“Everyone I’ve met has experienced traumatic events that no one – least of all a child – should ever have to go through,” Hiddleston said. “It’s heart-breaking to see that after three years, innocent children are still bearing the brunt of the conflict. The physical reality is that when fighting breaks out, everybody runs in different directions. Children become separated from their families – from their mothers, from their aunts, from their brothers, from whoever is looking after them – and are immediately vulnerable to psychological and physical abuse, hunger, and forced recruitment as child soldiers.”
Hiddleston met children in Bentiu who have escaped violence, recruitment and abuse. He met two brothers who had been separated from their mother when fighting broke out across the country in December 2013. The boys have had to live with a neighbour in their shelter for the last three years. The boys mother has been located by UNICEF’s family tracing and reunification program, and they will be reunited with her soon.
“I’ve seen things in South Sudan that will stay with me forever,” Hiddleston said. “It’s the youngest country in the world, a country which should have so much to look forward to, but the conditions those two boys have to live in – a place still torn apart by civil war – are unimaginable. Knowing that they will be reunited with their mother soon is at least a sign of hope in the immense struggle of the people of South Sudan.”
Hiddleston saw first-hand how UNICEF is reaching families living in the country’s largest displacement camp, home to 108,000 people, with lifesaving food and water, child protection services and healthcare. Many of the children he met have been living in the camp since the conflict began. Across South Sudan, UNICEF estimates there are currently more than 860,000 children who are psychologically distressed.
More than 14,000 unaccompanied, separated and missing children have been identified across the country since the civil war broke out in December 2013. Of those, 4,484 children have been successfully reunited with their families through UNICEF’s family tracing and reunification program.
A few weeks ago, 145 children were released by armed groups in South Sudan. This is the second largest release of children since 2015, when 1,775 children were released in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area. It is estimated that 17,000 children have been recruited as child soldiers since 2013.
Close to 3 million South Sudanese have now fled their homes and are either internally displaced or have sought refuge in neighbouring countries since December 2013. This includes an estimated 1 million children reported to have been internally displaced as well as half a million child refugees.
UNICEF is working to protect the children of South Sudan, delivering life-saving food, clean water and vaccines, as well as providing education and psychological support. However, humanitarian aid alone cannot keep pace with the tremendous needs of some of the most disadvantaged children in the world.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything they do. Together with their partners, they work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
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