15,000 Children Without Parents or Missing, Five Years After Outbreak of Fighting in South Sudan

December 12, 2018


NEW YORK (December 12, 2018) – Fifteen thousand children remain separated from their families or missing, five years after conflict first broke out in South Sudan. 

More than four million people have been uprooted by the fighting, the majority of them children. Since the conflict began, UNICEF and partners have reunited close to 6,000 children with their parents or care givers. 

“Every reunification is the result of months and often years of work to trace missing family members in a country the size of France, but without any basic infrastructure,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director in Eastern and Southern Africa. “The suffering children have endured during the fighting has been unimaginable, but the joy of seeing a family made whole again is always a source of hope.” 

Separated and unaccompanied children are more susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation, which makes returning them to their parents an urgent priority. Even once reunited, many families continue to need support. Half of the reunited children – some 3,000 – are still receiving assistance from case workers, putting the total number of children in need of support at 18,000.

A recently signed peace agreement between South Sudan’s warring parties could provide an opportunity to step up this work and other humanitarian assistance.

“There have been encouraging developments on the ground since the peace agreement was signed,” said Pakkala. “Our hope is that previously inaccessible areas will begin opening up, allowing us to deliver lifesaving assistance to more people in the year ahead.”

Since the conflict started, UNICEF and partners have:

  • Provided 1.5 million children with access to education
  • Supported the released of almost 3,000 children from armed forces and groups
  • Provided 800,000 people with access to clean water
  • Reached more than 1.4 million children with psycho-social support activities
  • Screened 1.5 million children for malnutrition
  • Supported birth notification for 550,000 newborns
  • Treated 630,000 children for severe acute malnutrition
  • Vaccinated almost 6 million children

Still, five years of violence and insecurity have taken a devastating toll on children in South Sudan. An estimated 1.2 million children are acutely malnourished – the highest number since the conflict began. Some 2.2 million children are not receiving an education, giving South Sudan the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world.

For 2019, UNICEF is appealing for US$ 179 million for humanitarian assistance to children.


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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. UNICEF USA supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For more information, contact
Erica Vogel, UNICEF USA, 212.922.2480, evogel@unicefusa.org
Gabby Arias, UNICEF USA, 917.720.1306, garias@unicefusa.org