Women and children are suffering the most in South Sudan amid renewed civil strife. Much to the disappointment of the African Union – which mediated a peace deal one year ago, the East-Central African country has been gripped by political instability yet again.
“Regrettably, despite one week of intensive engagements the Parties have failed to reach agreement, dashing the hopes and expectations of the long-suffering Sudanese people. The Panel believes that the Parties have allowed a real and critical opportunity to slip out of their hands” the African Union said in a statement.
Now, South Sudan faces an uncertain political future, as Riek Machar, the man who was sacked as vice-president by President Salvir Kirr, has fled to Kinshasa in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mr Machar has been “safely evacuated to a safe country in the region” after a “botched attempt to assassinate” him, a statement from the SPLA-IO said. Machar recently called on the UN to deploy more peace-keeping troops in Sudan as a matter of urgency.
Last week, the UN approved a new, stronger peace-keeping mandate for South Sudan; as well as the deployment of 4000 peace-keeping troops to bolster the 12 ooo UN soldiers already stationed there.
The gravity of the situation, especially for vulnerable women and children, can’t be exaggerated.
According to UNICEF, since the beginning of the year, 650 children have been forcibly recruited by armed groups in the country. All in all, UNICEF estimates that 16 000 children have been forcibly recruited by armed groups since December 2013, the time when the current crisis began, despite public pledges by leading political actors to desist from recruiting child soldiers.
“The dream we all shared for the children of this young country has become a nightmare,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth, speaking from Nairobi following a trip to Bentiu and Juba in South Sudan. “At this precarious stage in South Sudan’s short history, UNICEF fears that a further spike in child recruitment could be imminent.”
Violence against women and children has also intensified. “Children continue to endure horrific ordeals,” said Forsyth. “Recent reports point to widespread sexual violence against girls and women. The systematic use of rape, sexual exploitation and abduction as a weapon of war in South Sudan must cease, together with the impunity for all perpetrators.”