Children in South Sudan who were displaced following the outbreak of conflict in December 2013 are now being reunited with their families under the Family Tracing and Reunification programme. The project which is organised by Save the Children and supported by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has seen 6,000 children rejoin their families.
The latest children to be reunited with their parents got separated during an attack in 2014 as the family ran in different directions for safety. Interim Country Director for Save the Children International (South Sudan), Arshad Malik, expressed the aura of joy and gladness that surrounded the reconciliation.
“It was an emotional moment for everyone involved. It was ululation, tears, and songs of happiness… Seeing the happiness in their faces after enduring so much fills us with hope. We won’t stop until all separated children are back home,” Malik said.
Over four million people were displaced by the war, with most fleeing to neighboring countries and in settlements across the country. The situation is even more critical for children, most of whom are without company, making them more susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation. A resulting consequence is the overabundance of children liable to be recruited as child soldiers by armed groups, a trend that has risen dramatically over the years.
But following the signing of a ceasefire deal last September, many refugees have returned to South Sudan and hundreds of child recruits had been freed as at February this year. And in order to help some 268,000 women, men and children who had been displaced by conflict to return to their homes, the United Nations allocated a grant of $11 million.
However, over 12,000 children are still missing and waiting for family tracing and reunification, due to long distances and poor connections, which make the tracing by caseworkers labour-intensive. The programme is heavily reliant on the workers walking long distances and knocking on doors to trace children and their parents.
But despite all the difficulties, UNICEF representative in South Sudan, Mohamed Ag Ayoya, says one or several children are brought back to their families almost every week. “To bring the rest of the children back home, we need strong partnerships and support from the international community,” Ayoya added.
The cumulative effects of conflict in the country involve more than just the displacement of children as there are other concerns such as severe food shortages. But the progress of the reunification programme offers hope on South Sudan’s recovery as it awaits the formation of a unity government.