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.