World Bulletin / News Desk
As everyone gets hit by the economic collapse in war-torn South Sudan, children have the bitter part of it struggling to while the day away and borne the most staggering costs of the war.
In the capital, Juba, many children are forced to work, beg at streets or at worst run into the garbage to search for the thrown leftovers and most go without schooling.
Some children, like eleven-year-old Mayen Nyanut, who have grown up knowing nothing but fighting, fear and upheaval have become the face of the nation's struggle.
When the war started in December 2013, Mayen said he ran for his life after armed forces clashed in the town where he was residing.
“I ran to the UNMISS camps without my parents,” he recalled. “Maybe they are killed. I lost hope after the life became unbearable. I decided to travel to Juba and ended up here in the street.”
Despite being at streets, Mayen likes studying and sometimes he carries his schoolbooks with him. “I wanted to continue my education, but war and street life wouldn’t let me,” he said.
He added that he was willing to leave the street and go back to home once there was peace.
Akot Sebit, 9, started juggling nine months ago. First, it was a pickpocketing, now it is an afternoon job in a busy street of Juba.
His plight is similar to that of thousands of 'street kids' in South Sudan.
Usually others have a home in poverty-stricken areas or are orphaned, but the war and their desperate economic situation compel them to live in the streets all day, doing what they can to make money to maintain themselves.
“I push things in a wheelbarrow in the morning and then in the evening, I go to busy streets in town. Many cars during rush hours give us money, others get mad at us, they sound their klaxons or start their cars and want to knock us down," Sebit said.
Sebit sleeps on the hard floor, close to the rubbish dumps where they (street children) scavenge for scraps to eke out a living, but at least the place is safe from outside eyes.
"I make about 200 pounds ($2) each day. At night, I go to a certain school where I sleep. It's far away – an hour journey,” Sebit added.
For 12-year-old James Omot, life is different. He has never been to the city and has no place to lay his head on. He has been hopping from one place to the other in search of a place to call home.
Omot lives in plastic shacks reserved for army recruits around military barrack, but during the day he moves from one hotel to another hotel in search of food at the many restaurants in Juba.
Mayen and Omot’s tales sum up the plight of South Sudanese school children across the country where the raging armed conflict destroyed a generation of young people of post-independent South Sudan.
Over three years of the civil war, the number of street children has doubled and President Salva Kiir, in a national address last December, admitted there was a huge number of street kids and that worried him.
“I am deeply concerned about the growing number of street children and parents who cannot feed their children due to the shrinking economy,” Kiir said.
There is no official figure on the number of homeless children in South Sudan, a sign of the lack of interest by South Sudanese authorities regarding the problem.
Confident Children out of Conflict (CCC), an international charity organization, suggested the number of street children could be up to 10,000 throughout South Sudan, including 3,000 in Juba alone.
“There are about 5,000 to 10,000 street children, though this figure has not been verified,” a CCC official who requested not to be named due to restriction on speaking to media said this week.
South Sudan's Gender Minister Awut Deng Achuil described the hike in the number of homeless children "alarming."
Deng told Anadolu Agency Friday that the government does not have funds to build a home for the children, adding that she appealed to local and international NGOs to take a step and help.
More than half of children in South Sudan are not in school, the highest proportion in any country and 900,000 others have also been displaced by the conflict and facing life-threatening malnutrition, lack access to health care or clean water including 17,000 child soldiers recruited since the outbreak of the civil war in 2013, according to UNICEF.
The South Sudan conflict began in December 2013 as a power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) between president Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar.
The conflict quickly escalated into civil war. Since then, tens of thousands have been killed. Almost half of the pre-war population has been displaced, including more than 2 million who fled their homes.