NEW YORK (July 6, 2012) — UNICEF calls for the rights and well-being of children in South Sudan to be made an urgent priority as the one year anniversary of independence for the world's newest nation approaches. With half the population under the age of 18, greater investments in children are vital for the country's growth and stability.
As South Sudan grapples with multiple crises, from severe food insecurity, to the ongoing influx of refugees, to the continued threat of conflict, there is more need than ever to protect the rights of children.
"The foundation of a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan can be strong only if we invest in the country's youngest citizens. They need to be everyone's priority so that the next generation can play an active and meaningful part in building this new nation," said Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. "The measurement of progress must be in terms of concrete results for children. We need to improve children’s chances to survive beyond their fifth birthday, to have a chance to go to school and to be protected from violence and conflict."
The country inherited high maternal and infant mortality, high rates of illiteracy and malnutrition, and very limited infrastructure, making it one of the riskiest places in the world for a child to be born.
70% of children between the ages of 6 and 17 have never set foot in a classroom, and the completion rate in primary schools is barely 10%, one of the lowest in the world. Girls remain particularly disadvantaged when it comes to educational opportunities and are vulnerable to harmful social practices of early marriage and early childbearing. Despite a decrease in mortality rates for children under five, an estimated one in nine children die before their fifth birthday, 20% are malnourished, and only 13% have access to adequate sanitation.
In the last year, the Government, with support from UNICEF and development partners, has sought to establish critically needed infrastructure and has initiated the process of reversing adverse trends in child development.
UNICEF has supported a number of significant policy achievements, critical to the future of the nation. Strategic frameworks have been developed in the domains of Education, Water and Sanitation, and Justice for Children. In signing a landmark agreement, the Sudan People's Liberation Army has reaffirmed its commitment to have no children within its ranks.
UNICEF is providing new sources of water, rehabilitating old sources, and establishing a centralized data system allowing for greater information sharing. In five years, there has been a 40% increase in access to improved sources of drinking water. Over the past year, efforts have intensified to ensure that children in some of the more disadvantaged schools have a friendlier learning environment and that they remain protected from preventable diseases.
Unresolved issues between Sudan and South Sudan continue to have an impact on children. Since the end of 2010, more than 400,000 South Sudanese people have returned to the country from Sudan. UNICEF has been active in reintegration efforts and is supporting a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries on the protection of separated and unaccompanied children of South Sudanese origin who have been identified in Sudan, ensuring that the interests of children remain paramount.
"Children are still bearing the brunt on many fronts, and we have had to maintain a continued front line response to the humanitarian situation caused by conflict and displacement." said Haque. "The children of this country deserve a better future, and it is critical that long term predictable investment is available and translates into real gains for them."
UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.
UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. But still, 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.