Former 'forced wife' receives Marsh Award at Tedx summit
International children’s charity, World Vision has urged the UK government to redouble its efforts to support peace in South Sudan and end its child soldier crisis.
The world’s newest nation is grappling with a worsening child soldier crisis as the country marks its seventh independence anniversary this week. Over 19,000 children have been conscripted into various armed groups in the conflict-ridden country, but the actual number could be even higher, World Vision experts warn.
Gavin Crowden, World Vision UK’s Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, said: “South Sudan is one of the countries with the highest rates of child soldiers in the world.
“The new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt took up the job on South Sudan’s seventh birthday – and the UK government has a leading and influential role in South Sudan. While we have hope that as South Sudan's leaders remain in dialogue, and they will urgently arrive at a peaceful resolution to the crisis, we believe UK diplomacy can be key to that peace process. Now is the time for the UK to meet the South Sudanese leaders and offer the political guidance that leads to peace.
“This is an urgent matter as the plight of children in South Sudan is dire, with thousands getting conscripted into fighting forces as child soldiers. Experts place the figure of child soldiers at over 19, 000, but the true number could be higher as it’s difficult for our staff to establish the full extent due to the complexities of this crisis,”he continued.
Warring sides have engaged in peace talks for years, but little progress has been made so far. Since the conflict erupted in 2013, parties have reached several ceasefire agreements, most of which have been subsequently broken.
Seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Of these, up to 60 per cent - or three in five - are internally displaced children.
The South Sudan war has also affected children who are not at risk of recruitment. The country, which already experienced widespread food insecurity and malnutrition, is now facing a hunger crisis due to the conflict. More than 1.1 million children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished.
World Vision is on the ground assisting children affected by the conflict, which has killed thousands and displaced millions. In February, the organisation – together with the U.N - helped coordinate the release of more than 300 children associated with armed groups in the country.
“It’s heart-breaking. These children are the future of South Sudan. They are the hope of this country,” says Mesfin Loha, World Vision’s Country Programme Director in South Sudan. “They must be allowed to live in peace without fear for their lives. They deserve the chance to go to school and grow in the loving care of their families and friends as they pursue their dreams,” he explained.
World Vision also provides psychological assistance to children who witnessed horrific violence, and, through a foster family system, it helps children who become separated from their families as they flee.
For more information on World Vision’s work in South Sudan, click here.
Angela Atim Lakor, a survivor of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and now a World Vision partner, this week returns to London where she will be honoured for her contribution to building peace, tackling stigma and supporting women and children recovering from war.
Angela will present a Tedx Talk on her experience of war as a child as part of this year’s Whitehall Women event at HMS President in London on Friday 3 November. As part of the event Angela will also receive the Marsh Award for Peace-making and Peace building from the prestigious Wilton Park. She shares the award with fellow human rights campaigner Ms. Fareeda Abbas Rasho Khalaf, a member of the Yazda Yazidi women’s organization.
The infamous LRA militia abducted Angela when she was only 14. She endured sexual violence as part of the LRA's 'forced wives' system for many years. On escaping, Angela was supported at the World Vision Children of War Reintegration Centre in Gulu, Uganda. As a survivor herself she went on to co-found the Watye Ki Gen charity which supports female returnees from the Lord’s Resistance Army and their children - helping them combat the stigma that affects every area of their lives from employment to their children’s education.
World Vision's Children of War Reintegration Centre has helped rehabilitate and reintegrate nearly 15,000 former child soldiers and children born in captivity in the past decade.
Erica Hall, World Vision UK’s Technical Policy Lead on Child Protection, said, “Children are vulnerable in the face of conflict. Recent UN figures show that there were at least 14,500 grave violations against children in armed conflict last year, including recruitment, sexual violence and abductions.”