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3.1 million children in urgent need of protection amid worsening food insecurity

Aid agencies said Thursday at least 3.1 million children in South Sudan require urgent support from international donors and the government to meet their protection and food needs in 2023.

The UN children fund (UNICEF), two global charities –  Save the Children and Plan International – said in a joint statement issued in Juba, that children face heightened risk of various negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage, hazardous child labor, family separation, and recruitment by armed forces and armed groups.

“Food security is essential for children’s development. It makes the difference between helping them thrive in the future or pushing them towards harmful coping mechanisms to survive,” Jean-Loic Guieze, Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster Coordinator, led by WFP and FAO said.

Guieze noted children deserve to grow up in a healthy and safe environment where they can focus on their education and being children instead of having to worry about what they will eat next.

The humanitarian community, donors, and government gathered in Juba this week to address the grave effects of South Sudan’s hunger crisis on children’s protection.

It said that girls in particular face multiple risks during food crises.

“Adolescent girls of working age face higher barriers to accessing livelihood opportunities and lifesaving and protective services. In times of crisis and food shortage, girls are more likely to see their education cut short and be forced into situations of hazardous work, child marriage, or sexual exploitation and abuse,” it disclosed.

It said child protection proponents are bracing for another year of rises in child protection cases, including cases of sexual and gender-based violence, child labor, unaccompanied and separation of children.

South Sudan’s is facing worsening food security situation with almost 8 million people deemed food insecure this year alone.

It revealed the Annual Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict reported a 135 percent increase in grave violations against children in 2022, with humanitarian actors reporting an overall increase of 8 percent in the number of document child protection cases.

“It is imperative to highlight that the multiple crises in South Sudan are a child protection crisis. Conflict, economic, climate induced shocks and displacement and particularly food insecurity increase the risk and vulnerability for sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage, abductions and mental health issues,” Obia Achieng, Deputy Representative, UNICEF South Sudan as lead of the Child Protection Area of Responsibility.

Mohamed Kamal, Country Director for Plan International South Sudan, called for innovation and strengthening partnerships and collaborations across sectors to realize gender and age-responsive strategies for children’s and girls’ multi-sectoral needs.

“It is essential to unite in building a consensus and ensuring a minimum package of services that safeguards our children and girls in times of food crises and beyond,” Kamal said.

It noted that despite documented impact of food insecurity on children’s protection, food security and child protection practitioners often lack the capacity, resources, and strategies needed to address these issues.

Leon Kohl, First Secretary at the embassy of the federal republic of Germany in Juba, said Germany supports strengthening the collaboration between child protection and food security partners to better address the challenges faced by children in South Sudan.

“Today’s event underlines the need for the government of South Sudan to invest more resources into tackling food insecurity to improve the protection needs of the children of South Sudan,” Kohl.

The event culminated in the launch of a new advocacy brief between the Child Protection Area of Responsibility and Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster which draws attention to the interlinkages between food insecurity and children’s protection concerns. The brief provides a series of recommendations for key actors, including donors, child protection and food security actors, and national government.

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