South Sudan’s Education Crisis

20 June 2019

The UN’s latest investigation into South Sudan has revealed an intensifying pattern of violence against civilians. In the two-hundred-page report, victims testified in graphic detail about incidents of abductions, killings and brutal attacks which could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations has urged action to end violence and impunity in South Sudan. After eight years of independence and the outbreak of a brutal war fought on political and ethnic divisions, “every kind of norm” has been broken by the extensive rights abuses and atrocities committed by military actors and armed groups.

The Impact on Children

Children born into South Sudan’s armed conflict endure extreme levels of violence. 8,000 are currently missing. Others have been killed or maimed, and thousands have become victims of sexual slavery and abuse. The war has turned the world’s youngest nation into one of the most dangerous places to be a child.

It has also disrupted the education of more than 2.2 million children – the highest rate globally. With this number of children out of school, a girl growing up in South Sudan is more likely to die from pregnancy or in childbirth than to complete her primary education.

Photo by Stephanie Glinski,  AFP.

Children denied the opportunity to go to school are more likely to be recruited by armed groups. In the absence of support systems and often with no other option in which to survive, boys and girls are being forced to join a conflict that they played no part in creating. An estimated 19,000 school-aged children in South Sudan have either been abducted by armed groups or exploited into joining the war.

The crisis is likely to have long-term consequences for governance in South Sudan. A report by The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict has found that without education, the disruption of moral standards under conditions of conflict and the effects of war on young people could have lasting implications for peacebuilding and development.

Learning, for many South Sudanese children, has been reduced to lessons in survival. Exposure to acts of extreme violence, overwhelming loss and an endless search for safety are experiences that impact a child’s development and the way that they interact with others. Ensuring that vulnerable children have access to education can give them the coping mechanisms needed for a future beyond their survival and a chance for the healthy cognitive, social and emotional development that they require.

Humanitarian reports show the extent to which South Sudanese children are being failed: 3 in 4 have never seen peace, according to Unicef. It is through positive experiences during the formative years of their life, either at school or away from the conflict in which they have been raised, that will enable and encourage the next generation to become the peacemakers that South Sudan needs.

With the understanding that education is both a lifeline for children and an integral part of a reconciliation strategy that is key to preventing conflict, HART has secured further funding for our partner organisation Christian Action for Relief and Development. 

CARD leads a programme in emergency education for children displaced by conflict. Using local resources to promote peaceful co-existence, sustainable development and improved collective well-being, the project will be implemented in Nyieth Payam, an area that suffered decades of military offensives by the Government of Sudan (1989-2005).

Due to renewed violence and under-funding for education, the lack of infrastructure at Nyieth School has resulted in many lessons being taught under trees in the surrounding compound. The project will enhance the quality of education for the children and for adults who were denied education in Nyieth Payam, Awan Chan, Gorgial State in South Sudan through the construction of 6 new classrooms.

The community constantly regard education as their main priority for their children to help them to build a foundation for their lives in the context of civil war. (Families) know that it helps their children to keep some sense of normality in otherwise stressful circumstances and improves the prospects for recovery and longer-term wellbeing – War Child.


A peaceful future starts with education. Photo via UNHCR

Less than 2% of all humanitarian aid is directed towards education. More must be done to serve the needs of millions of children caught in the crossfires of war, and to protect their right to learn. South Sudan’s children are no exception – with large numbers at risk of being recruited into armed groups- humanitarian actors, peacekeeping operations and NGOs must scale up their efforts to secure safe access to education.

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