Bishop of Coventry calls for the protection of women and children who have fled Myanmar

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.

International children’s charity - World Vision - has echoed calls by the Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, who yesterday petitioned the government to do more to help vulnerable women and children who have fled Myanmar

This crisis is a deep human tragedy…and we must protect women and children

- Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth

The Bishop’s calls come as World Vision prepares to expand its emergency response in Bangladesh. This weekend the charity will distribute tarpaulins to help families build shelters. In the coming weeks, the global children’s charity will open child and women friendly spaces to support those who have experienced abuse or those at risk of violence.

Amy Johnson, World Vision UK’s Political Advocacy Officer, said, “Immediate funding of child protection programming is essential to ensure children’s well-being and survival during and after the crisis, but sadly it is often forgotten. We hope the Bishop’s call for greater protection of vulnerable women and girls will encourage the government to lead the way on child protection in this underfunded humanitarian response.”

“The new shelters we will start building from the weekend will give the refugees Child friendly spaces give children the psychosocial support they need to recover from the horrors they have witnessed.

A recent study by the International Organisation for Migration, showed that children constitute a staggering 58 per cent of all refugees that have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since violence broke out in August. The same study also revealed that children felt unsafe in 74 per cent of refugee sites.

World Vision staff on the ground have received reports that many of the women and children forced to flee have experienced sexual violence and they continue to be at risk of abuse in the overcrowded camps.

Margarettha Siregar, World Vision’s Bangladesh Humanitarian Response Manager, said, “The authorities are doing their very best to support the huge numbers of refugees that have poured across the border, but these makeshift camps are densely populated and the needs are overwhelming.”

We know from working directly with children in the camps that they have a number of competing vulnerabilities. They have seen and experienced the most brutal violence imaginable. Many are alone with no family to support them.

- Margarettha Siregar, World Vision’s Bangladesh Humanitarian Response Manager

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