RUMBEK –Among the social issues troubling Africa’s newest state, South Sudan’s street children pose a delicate but serious challenge to regional authorities. Roughly half of the children were orphaned during the civil war; the rest left home due to neglect, cruelty, including domestic violence, or other rights abuses.
“I get my food from the garbage,” said Mabor, whose parents are deceased. “I have nobody to pay for my school fees. The results of war make me come to street.”
He sleeps on the steps of buildings in Rumbek’s Freedom Square or in abandoned market stalls, along with several other boys.
One of them, Santino Mapuor Angong, 15, explained that he left home because his father sent him away to tend cattle against his wishes.
“If my father stops telling me to go to the cattle camp, I will go home in order to resume school,” he said.
The fallout of Sudan’s 22-year civil war is visible in many of the faces of these youth, who struggle without parental guidance, love and support to prepare them for adulthood.
State authorities have identified and registered over 100 children living on the streets of Rumbek alone. Deng Kuok, Minister of Social Development, said their numbers are rising.
“If these children grow up in the street,” he added, “it will be a threat to the government and the community at large.” The government has divided the registered children into groups of orphans, who will be sent to school, and those who authorities are trying to send home to their parents. In 22 cases, the children’s fathers were said to be alive. Authorities have begun providing food to the street children, but Kuok acknowledged that one meal a day is “inadequate.”
Born during a war that claimed the lives of many of their parents or siblings, some live dangerously close to fighters for whom the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 has little meaning.
An official from the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said homeless children in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei States are especially vulnerable because of their proximity to ongoing clashes between rebel militias and the army. Yasmin Haque told reporters the government should prioritize education to reduce the number of children in the streets and limit their exposure to violence.
Upper Nile State is reported to have the largest number of street children in South Sudan.
A study carried out last year found 1,500 street children in Juba, and about the same number in areas outside the capital. About eight out of ten are boys, the study found, with ages ranging from four to 18. The majority cited lack of parental care as the main reason for leaving home.
In a recent radio interview, Agnes Kwaje Lasuba, South Sudan’s Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, said three centres for street children would be built in the communities of Torit, Malakal and Wau.