According to Anthony Lake, the executive director of The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children in South Sudan face brutal violence in their everyday lives as the world’s newest country continues to fight a civil war.
“The details of the worsening violence against children are unspeakable, but we must speak of them,” he announced. “As many as 129 children from Unity State were killed during only three weeks in May. Survivors report that boys have been castrated and left to bleed to death… 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.
Witnesses claimed the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the South Sudan Liberation Army killed the children “to keep their generation from exacting revenge on their attackers.” Christopher Tidey, communications officer at UNICEF, said, “It seems that in a lot of these cases the children were targeted. The logic is that they don’t want the children to grow up to be the next generation who will then pick up the fight or exact some sort of revenge.”
Tidey said the soldiers murdered one girl because they “could not decide on who would rape the victim first.”
“So the child was killed to resolve the dispute,” he stated.
Those who survive are forced into military duty with their attackers.
“Children are also being aggressively recruited into armed groups of both sides on an alarming scale – an estimated 13,000 children forced to participate in a conflict not of their making,” he continued. “Imagine the psychological and physical effects on these children – not only of the violence inflicted on them but also the violence they are forced to inflict on others.”
In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the South Sudanese government of forcing children as young as 13 to fight in the war. It is a war crime to enlist children younger than 15.
“Despite renewed promises by both government and opposition forces that they will stop using child soldiers, both sides continue to recruit and use children in combat,” explained Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW. “In Malakal, government forces are even taking children from right outside the United Nations compound.”
The civil war started 18 months ago with over 2 million people displaced and 4 million left without food. Over 250,000 children face starvation. The government kicked out UN aid chief Toby Lanzer after he talked publicly about the food crisis in the country.
“Six months ago, we thought that violence and suffering had peaked and that peace was on the horizon,” he said last week. “We were wrong. In half of the country, one in three children are acutely malnourished and 250,000 children face starvation.”
The European Union and United Nations announced over $275 million in aid, but it is unknown if it is enough. Lanzer stated he needs at least $1.63 million. But the aid groups also need equipment to properly operate.
“We needed attack helicopters—request denied,” said Hervé Ladsous, the top official in the UN’s peacekeeping operation. “We needed [drones]—request denied by the president to me, personally, three times last year.”