South Sudan Conflict: 5,000 children reunited with family by Save the Children, UNICEF and partners


South Sudan Conflict: 5,000 children reunited with family by Save the Children, UNICEF and partners

Girls sit on the ground after school at the Upper Nile primary school in the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, South Sudan, Monday 1 May 2017.

As of May 2017, the United Nations’ protection of civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, Unity State, is home to more than 120,000 internally displaced South Sudanese. Surrounded by war and famine, children and their families are seeking safety in the PoC from armed groups involved in the ongoing conflict across the country. The displaced are forced to live in overcrowded conditions and are reliant on international aid organisations for the basics like food and sanitation. 

Around 60 per cent of those displaced are under 18 years of age and it is estimated that more than 33,000 children are attending UNICEF supported schools in the PoC. Schools such as Upper Nile School cater for the huge youth population, but classes are overcrowded. With upwards of 70 children per classroom and educational resources scarce, UNICEF and its partners are working to improve access to education through the provision of basic education supplies, as well as training and allowances for volunteer teachers.

For those attending classes at the Upper Nile School, classes offer some respite from the ongoing war. Insecurity, ongoing displacement and attacks on schools mean that nearly three quarters of the country’s children are out of school — the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world. 

Education is central to the humanitarian response for those living in PoCs across South Sudan. Many have witnessed unspeakable horrors and suffer the trauma associated with war. Education is one ray of light shining through the cracks of their young country.

© UNICEF/UN068330/Hatcher-Moo4000re

Girls sit on the ground after school at the Upper Nile primary school in the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, South Sudan, Monday 1 May 2017.

JUBA/HONG KONG, 18 October 2017 – Since conflict broke out in South Sudan in 2013, Save the Children, UNICEF and partners have successfully reunited more than 5,000 children with their families.

The 5,000th child to be reunited with his family was a 17-year-old boy, who had fled Tombura in Western Equatoria and sought refuge in Wau, Western Bahr El Ghazal. The boy was reunited with his mother after being separated for almost four years.

“Keeping families together is the best way to ensure that children are protected, which is why the family tracing and reunification process for unaccompanied children is so important,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. “Children rely on their family for a sense of stability, protection and support, and that’s even more imperative in times of conflict”

The longer a child is separated from her or his family, the more difficult it is to locate them and the more at risk a child is to violence, economic and sexual exploitation, abuse and potential trafficking.

“The Family tracing and reunification programme is one of the most effective child protection in emergencies interventions in South Sudan,” said Deirdre Keogh, Save the Children Country Director in South Sudan. “The strong coordination and collaboration between family tracing and reunification agencies in South Sudan is the main reason behind the success of this programme.”

A total of 16,055 unaccompanied and separated children have been registered by the organisations involved in the family tracing and reunification programmes in South Sudan.

Efforts continue to trace the families of the more than ten thousand children still separated from their family or caregivers, so that they too can be reunited.

Reuniting separated children with their families is a challenging process in a country with virtually no infrastructure and no telephone reception in many areas. Family tracing and reunification (FTR) staff often have to trek for hours to look for separated families.

Family separation is considered one of the key drivers to psychosocial stress for Internally Displaced Persons and other affected populations.

“I thank the people who have rescued me,” said the 17-year-old after being reunited with his mother. “I want to go back to school and someday help other children who are suffering like me.”

“When I ate I always thought about what my son could be eating,” said Elena, the boy’s mother. “I only ate to stay alive but I never enjoyed it. I have been unhappy because I have been thinking about my son’s whereabouts. It was hard to forget him because I didn’t see him dead and bury him.”

Last month alone, UNICEF, Save the Children and partners identified and supported 399 unaccompanied and separated children.

UNICEF’s Family Tracing and Reunification programme is supported by the European Commission – Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), USAID, DFID, CHF and UNICEF France.