Stuart Leigh, Real World Productions
July 9th was the birthday of the world’s youngest nation. Five years ago, in the city of Juba, the country marked its first independence ceremony after one of Africa’s longest civil wars. Although the birth of South Sudan was received with much fanfare, this new nation plunged into an internal ethnic conflict in December 2013. According to UNICEF, over 5.1 million children who have been affected by this conflict face critical issues that include violence and the lack of basic education.
The situation is dire for a generation of children in South Sudan where half of the population aged between 6 and 15 is out of school. The forceful recruiting of children from schools and the occupation of school buildings by military camps have undermined efforts to provide much needed education. A recent article by Aljazeera highlighted efforts by UNICEF to fund the reintegration of conscripted children into the society and the Disarmament Demobilization Reintegration Commission (DDRC) was tasked with releasing these children. Skye Wheeler, a human rights researcher noted that “a culture of impunity and lack of accountability has nurtured the view that child soldiers are an acceptable feature of wartime, and release a part of peacetime” This grave violation of human rights has become common practice and it has denied scores of children, their basic right to education.
Despite this grim picture, there have been efforts by aid organizations to provide education to some of the hardest hit conflict areas in the country. According to FrontLine, a USAID publication, millions that have been displaced from their homes, have led to the closing of an estimated 70% of schools in the most conflict-affected regions like Jonglei and Upper Nile. The Radio Literacy Program, a USAID intervention, has proven to be a successful tool that has reached a broad audience using limited resources. In a country where only 35% of teachers have a primary level of education, radio literacy has complemented this shortfall by providing Interactive Radio Instruction. This medium has been used to teach English and Math, provide programs for teacher training and English language learning for adults. Radio has also been used to promote peace through community radio which has been implemented in regions with diverse ethnicities to create forums that promote inclusion and tolerance.
Today, the future of the children of South Sudan, hangs on a fragile peace agreement signed by the president Salva Kiir and the vice president, Riek Machar. As the UN tries to broker lasting peace and put an end to the use of child soldiers, sustainable solutions such as the Radio Literacy Program, could go a long way in improving basic literacy. A recent feature by USA today on the rarity of education in South Sudan, put the situation into perspective in the words of John Deng, a 12-year-old. “We want to learn, even during war. Education will be the only thing that will get us out of this situation”
Human Rights Watch. We can die too https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/14/we-can-die-too/recruitment-and-use-child-soldiers-south-sudan
Wheeler, Sky., June 2015. War and Conflict in South Sudan: Children on the battlefield. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/06/south-sudan-children-battlefield-150604113603298.html
BBC news Jan 12, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36763076
BBC news July 11, 2016. South Sudan Clashes, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar order cease-fire. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36763076
Mayom, Jok., April 27, 2016. For children of war-torn South-Sudan, education is a rarity. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/04/27/children-war-torn-south-sudan-education-rarity/83542606/