Out of about 3.4 million babies born in South Sudan since it gained independence in 2011, 2.6 million have known nothing but war, the United Nations children’s agency said.
The world’s youngest nation has been dogged by war since December 2013, sparked by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his then deputy Riek Machar.
The conflict has forced millions of children out of school, malnourished and vulnerable to disease, abuse and exploitation.
” As South Sudan turns seven, a seemingly endless war continues to devastate the lives of millions of children,” UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore said after visiting Juba, Ganiyel and Bentiu earlier this year.
“Warring parties can and must do more to bring back peace. The children of South Sudan deserve better.”
800 children have been released from armed groups since the beginning of 2018, but UNICEF warns that an estimated 19,000 are still trapped in the battle field, serving as fighters, cooks, porters and messengers. They also suffer sexual abuse.
The agency also warns that malnutrition rates are at critical levels, with more than 1 million children malnourished, including 300,000 severely so and at risk of death.
South Sudan is Africa’s biggest refugee crisis, coming third worldwide after Syria and Afghanistan.
A peace deal signed last week in Ethiopia between Kiir and Machar, with follow-up talks in Sudan and Uganda, has however restored hope for peace in South Sudan.
The leaders agreed on a power-sharing deal that will see Machar re-take his position of first vice president.
Further details of the agreement are expected to emerge in the coming days, with more talks still due next week.