South Sudan conflict leaves children to fend for themselves

Over 1,000 people have been killed and over 500,000 affected, many of them children, as violence between Sudanese forces and ethnic militia overtakes South Sudan, according to a humanitarian group.

Thousands of children are being forced to survive isolated in the bush, aid group says

Displaced boys lie on a mattress at a United Nations compound which has become home to thousands of people fleeing violence, in Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 29. Save the Children group says thousands of South Sudanese children who cannot access the Juba camp are alone in the bush, separated from their families. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

Over 1,000 people have been killed and over 500,000 affected, many of them children, as violence between Sudanese forces and ethnic militia overtakes South Sudan, according to a humanitarian group trying to bring aid to the region.

Save The Children emergency worker Helen Mould told CBC's As It Happens that, as violence continues between warring Dinka and Nuer tribes, the aid organization is having trouble reaching people in dire need of assistance — civilians, including potentially thousands of children caught in the crossfire.

The country broke away from Sudan two years ago, after which it became embroiled in tribal violence. 

Mould said the town of Bor, in Jonglei province, has been cut off due to ongoing fighting, and people have been forced to flee the low-lying swamp lands to higher, dryer regions that are remote and inaccessible.

One Save the Children worker who fled Bor with his family reported that he saw three children die of diarrhea out in the bush, where people are living in the shelter of trees, eating wild plants, and have no access to health care.  

Children fend for themselves 

The organization has estimated that 121,000 people are fleeing the conflict, many of them children who have been separated from their parents, or whose parents have died in the violence. These children are forced to fend for themselves out in the bush, or have been adopted by substitute families who can just barely support their own, for lack of resources. At least 300 children were separated from their families in the province of Jonglei alone — one of five provinces where fighting has broken out.

Aid is unavailable to all but the few who are in Juba, where the United Nations camp houses refugees. The UN is also trying to reunite children with their parents by tracing their families. 

Physical and psychological trauma

Mould told As It Happens that emergency workers have found children as young as 2 years old without their parents. Many need much more than just food and shelter, she said. 

"Children have seen their parents being killed and had also witnessed other horrific acts — houses being looted, bullets being shot through windows, houses being burned," said Mould.

Children have seen their parents being killed and have also witnessed other horrific acts.- Emergency worker Helen Mould

"As well support such as health care, sanitation and water, which is essential to keep people alive, we need to provide these children with psycho-social support to help them process this trauma that they've been through," Mould said.

Save the Children and the UN are calling on all parties to cease hostilities.

"The only things that can help innocent civilians and children is an immediate cessation of hostilities," said Mould, adding that governing and rebel leaders must make a commitment to peaceful dialogue. She called for a consistent ceasefire, so that aid organizations can do their work to support civilians.

A recent call for peace by President Salva Kiir was ignored Sunday, as violence continued in the world's newest, and for the last two weeks, most fragile country.