We call for the end of senseless conflicts that lock the children of Africa in the vicious cycle of displacement, poverty and hunger. We call on African governments and humanitarian organizations to ensure equal access to assistance for refugee and migrant children, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.
After approximately six years of civil war, more than 4.2 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, with 2 million currently internally displaced and another 2.2 million living as refugees. Many South Sudanese refugee children have lost a close relative or even a parent or sibling. Thousands have been orphaned or separated from their families in the chaos of war. Many have missed out on years of education. The conflict has devasted the lives of a generation of young people.
For six long years, violence has kept Joyce Adare 15 and her two siblings, (5-year-old Charles) and (3-year-old Jesca) from living a normal life. When rumors started about the presence of gunmen in and around Yei, fear gripped adjacent villages and many people left their homes for refuge in Uganda. For Joyce and her family, their village being relatively far from Yei, gave a false sense of calm so the family chose to stay put. One night in 2019 the relative calm was suddenly disrupted when the gunmen attacked their village, raided Joyce’s home and killed her parents as she watched. It remains a miracle how the 15-year-old managed to save herself and her younger siblings, taking off with them for the fourteen days walk to Uganda through rebel infested forests.
Joyce and her two siblings Charles (5), and Jesca (3) arrived at the Kuluba refugee collection point in Koboko district of Uganda after a
long and difficult journey, without shelter, food and parental protection, all the time praying that they would not get spotted by the rebels.
JAM international caught up with Joyce, her siblings and other refugees as they were being assisted with starting their new life as refugees.
In this foreign land, the children looked tired and hungry, were scared and mostly in tears and anguish, having witnessed their parents murder
just two weeks earlier. Her two siblings may be too young to understand the weight of life as refugees without parents, but Joyce understands fully as
she hugged them amid sobs.
In a flash, Joyce – aged 15 – was thrust in her new role of parenting her young brother and sister, skipping the opportunity of being a child.
A day after arriving, Joyce’s family, together with hundreds of other refugees were moved from Kuluba to the reception center in Imvepi and stayed
there for three weeks. Joyce and her family were later settled in Omugo camp about 60 kilometers to the East as there was not enough space for them
at Imvepi camp. When JAM visited Joyce and her siblings a few months after, we found a young girl who was still traumatized and struggling
to cope “Being scared is a permanent state of mind. I am always scared,” said Joyce. “When I go to bed, I always wonder if I would wake up
the next morning.”
At the new school that Joyce is attending, the teachers said they are well aware of Joyce’ situation and have been handling her with a lot of care and caution.
“We understand she is deeply traumatized having witnessed their parents being killed violently. Although we do not have counseling services, we try our
best to speak with her, and make her feel welcome here,” says her class teacher.
In class, Joyce seemed attentive and to be enjoying the lesson. “I am very happy to be back in school. I was worried that after losing my parents
I would lose everything including education.” She said.
Too often migrant and displaced children face numerous challenges in transit, at the destination and upon return, often because they
have few – or no – options to move through safe and regular pathways whether on their own or with their families. Boys and girls encounter different
security risks, including forced recruitment into armed groups or sexual abuse. Far too many encounter danger, detention, deprivation and discrimination
that require distinct protection measures. They miss out on education and proper medical care, and don’t find it easy to feel at home in the communities
they arrive in; trying to learn a new language and integrate into a new culture can make things especially hard. These difficulties have lasting physical and
psychological effects and prevent children on the move from reaching their full potential.
Poor housing conditions in displacement camps, informal settlements or overcrowded lodgings are especially harmful to children’s health as they are
more likely to fall ill from communicable diseases such as COVID-19 that flourish when hygiene and sanitation are insufficient.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The suffering and exclusion that refugee and displaced children go through are not only unacceptable but also
preventable. According to UNICEF, a child is a child no matter why he/she leaves home, where he/she comes from, where he/she is, or how he/she
got there. Every child deserves protection, care and app support and services he/she needs to thrive.
This year, as we celebrate the 2020 Day of the African Child, JAM International wishes to commemorate the children who lost their lives during
the Soweto uprising and all the African children like Joyce who continue to suffer the consequences of war and displacement. This day is also an opportunity
to reflect on the effects of Child Poverty and Child Hunger in Africa. According to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent, global think tank,
failure to tackle child poverty will jeopardize efforts to achieve a wide range of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Childhood poverty is
associated with increased risks of ill-health and mortality, malnutrition, and reduced opportunities for learning.
JAM International stands with the African Child and advocates for the ending of child poverty and child hunger in all forms. We call for an end to the
senseless conflicts in Africa that continue to endanger innocent lives and lock African children in the vicious cycle of displacement, poverty and hunger.
We continue to work towards our vision of An Africa that thrives, where children don’t merely survive but are nurtured, loved and achieve their full
potential. We finally call on African governments and humanitarian organizations to ensure equal access to assistance for refugee and migrant
children, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.