I was recently in South Sudan where children have been caught in the middle of a dangerous conflict since December last year.
Due to the violence, millions are in desperate need of food, water, medical attention, education and protection.
Children are suffering from the violence which has engulfed their homeland. According to the UN, more than 9,000 children have been recruited into armed forces and groups since the conflict began. These children are at risk of being killed, maimed and injured. But they are also missing out on education.
Akom was only 14 when he was recruited into an armed group a few months ago. He saw his hometown of Malakal invaded, looted and almost burnt to the ground. Residents were killed, raped and suffered other brutalities. Malakal is now a ghost town. Thousands have fled to the protection of a nearby UN base, while others crossed borders into neighbouring countries.
In an interview, Akom told our staff about the violence in his hometown. He and his neighbour returned to their houses to recover food:
"My neighbour was carrying food and flour. We were stopped by men who thought we were looting. They made us sit on the ground while two of them argued about whether they should kill the boy I was with. Then a third man came over and just shot him. I was crying. They told me, 'Get out of here.' They killed him because he was bigger than me."
Adolescents are especially vulnerable to being recruited by armed forces and groups whether by force or voluntarily. When speaking with adolescents in the UN protection sites, it was clear that many of them were becoming increasingly frustrated with being displaced and felt that they could be more useful ‘taking up arms with their brothers’. In order to reduce the risks of both voluntary and forced recruitment, World Vision is organising activities for displaced youth to help them deal with the psychological wounds of war and receive an education, thereby reducing the risk of them joining such forces or groups.
The current conflict is setting back relief efforts. A comprehensive and lasting peace is required to ensure children are back with their families and being schooled in class, not war.
World Vision can't do its work without the support from generous Australians. Our South Sudan response is focusing on re-uniting children separated from their families, creating safe spaces for children to play, learn, be supported and receive basics, like food, water and health items.
You can donate here to provide support to children caught up in this devastating crisis.
Majella Hurney is World Vision Australia's Head of Humanitarian & Emergency Affairs