Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December.
Among those fleeing are thousands of children lost from their families — heaping tragedy upon tragedy. Some were sent to safety by parents who could not afford a journey to safety themselves. Others became separated from their parents during the recent violence that has ravaged their country and left them traumatized.
Tracing the families and reunifying these separated children is challenging due to the constant movement of people searching for safe havens in and out of the country. Unaccompanied children face being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces.
Since the onset of violence December 15, USAID through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has helped launch five programs dedicated to identifying and supporting boys and girls who have become separated from their families and reuniting them with surviving caregivers, when possible. One of the programs USAID is supporting established a group of community outreach workers working within the displaced community to identify lost children. Another is training and supporting social workers who are on the ground addressing the needs of children who become separated from their families. Working alongside the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, USAID has helped identify more than 3,000 unaccompanied, separated, and missing boys and girls–and have helped reunite more than 400 with their families so far.
Nyawal Ruach, a young mother from Bor, is just one of the people USAID has helped. Ruach lost track of her two sons amid the chaos of a big tank shooting. She was gathering clothing from their home so they could flee the violence when her two boys – who Ruach had tied together to ensure they would not get lost from each other – went missing. They had followed a group of people running to escape. Ruach was able to find her sons through a center USAID is helping support to trace families and rescue lost children.
USAID is also providing safe and nurturing spaces for displaced children to learn, play and engage in psychosocial support activities—helping South Sudanese children cope with the traumas of war while reducing their exposure to risks for exploitation and abuse.
The people of South Sudan face a steady stream of challenges as violence and insecurity continue to mount. And in a twist on tragedy, the outbreak of famine is becoming a real possibility for up to 1 million people over the coming months if there is not increased fast and sustained aid to the world’s newest country.
No child should be forced to uproot. In South Sudan, more than 380,000 children have already faced violence and displacement when they should be playing in the safety of their own communities. Helping these devastated families reunite may be one of the few bright spots in the midst of this horrible conflict.