UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Years of war and economic collapse in South Sudan have brought about a humanitarian tragedy for children, who face death, injury, hunger, diseases, recruitment by armed groups, forced displacement and loss of schooling, said UNICEF on Monday.
At least half of the children in South Sudan are affected and there are fears that the situation could get even worse as an escalation of the conflict and security restrictions are preventing aid from reaching many of the areas where it is most needed, warned the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in a report.
Malnutrition, food insecurity and displacement have reached all-time highs, it warned.
Almost 3 million children are facing severe food insecurity, with more than 1 million acutely malnourished, while 2.4 million have been forced to flee their homes, said the report.
More than 2,300 children have been killed or maimed and about 19,000 have been recruited and associated with armed groups. Many more are growing up traumatized by the violence they witness and the hardships they endure, and an estimated 900,000 children suffer from psychosocial distress, it said. Children are targeted and killed for their ethnic background or for the political affiliation of their relatives or community members.
Widespread and horrific sexual violence has also been reported in the country. Although the full extent of sexual violence in the country is not known, nearly a quarter of documented incidents of conflict-related sexual violence affect children, said the report.
Malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhoea are major killers of children in a country where one in every 10 children dies before reaching the age of 5, and almost one in 100 births results in the death of the mother. More than 1.3 million people fell ill with malaria in the first nine months of 2017, it said.
Education has been severely disrupted, and if the current situation persists, only one in 13 children is likely to complete the full cycle of primary education, it said. Some two million school-age children in South Sudan are estimated to be out of school. The dropout rate of 72 percent is the highest in the world.
In South Sudan, only about half of the population have access to basic water supply and only 10 percent of the population have access to basic sanitation, while more than 60 percent are practising open defecation.
When it gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, the country was among the world's poorest, and was already scarred by decades of fighting between Sudanese government troops and rebels from the south. Only two years after independence, the world's youngest country was plunged into civil war as a result of a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.
A major economic crisis, with an inflation rate that has at times reached 800 percent, has further exacerbated the situation, plunging millions of people deeper into poverty and food insecurity, and leaving children ever more vulnerable, said the report.