South Sudan: UNICEF gravely concerned about children

Apr. 7, 2014

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed grave concerns about the situation of children in war-torn South Sudan, Press TV reports.

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A large number of people, many of them minors, have either been displaced or fled the country due to the ongoing war.

UNICEF says 70 percent of refugees crossing the border into Ethiopia are under the age of 18.

“We expect that by the end of April, we’ll have reached a figure close to 120,000 refugees. This is a huge number, and given the fact that at the moment we have close to 1.8 percent of separated and unaccompanied children, this figure is going to increase,” said Micheal Charle, a UNICEF child protection specialist in the Gambella region of Ethiopia.

The UN children’s agency said it is concerned about the obvious absence of teenage boys among the arriving refugees. The boys who remain behind face forceful recruitment as child soldiers.

“There is a gap in the age distribution of these children, boys between the age of 12 and 17 are underrepresented in the refugee population and we have grave concerns about the violation of children’s rights in that regard in South Sudan at the moment,” said Peter Salama, a UNICEF representative to Ethiopia.

Thousands of people have been killed and many others displaced by more than three months of fighting between government troops and rebel forces loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar.

The fighting between troops of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, who is from the Dinka ethnic group, and Machar, a Nuer, erupted around Juba on December 15, 2013.

The conflict soon turned into an all-out war between the army and defectors, with the violence taking on an ethnic dimension that pitted the president’s tribe against Machar’s.

The violence continues in South Sudan despite a ceasefire signed on January 23 to end weeks of heavy fighting in the world’s youngest nation.