War leaves one in four girls in South Sudan suicidal – report

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By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – One in four
adolescent girls in South Sudan has considered killing herself,
traumatised by physical and sexual violence brought on by the
country’s civil conflict, a report by the children’s charity
Plan International said on Tuesday.

The study, based on surveys with 249 girls aged 10 to 19
across South Sudan, said 25 percent reported they had suicidal
feelings in the last 12 months, largely due to the fear of being
raped, beaten, kidnapped or killed.

Seventy-five percent of girls said the conflict had
negatively affected their state of mind, one-third had been
injured in the violence, and 13 percent had been abducted
driving some to the depths of despair, said the report.

“These girls have endured some of the most horrendous
hardships imaginable,” George Otim, Plan International’s country
director in South Sudan, said in a statement.

“If we are to help give them some hope for the future, we
must see an end to the conflict in South Sudan. We need to
tailor support around gender and age so that adolescent girls
feel safe from violence and can continue with their education.”

South Sudan, which split from its northern neighbour Sudan
in 2011, has been gripped by a civil war sparked by rivalry
between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

The world’s youngest nation is now in its fifth year of
conflict, and the violence has led to the deaths of tens of
thousands of people.

Protracted insecurity has also hampered food production and
disrupted markets, leading to hyperinflation – and sparking a
food crisis.

Almost half South Sudan’s population lacks reliable access
to enough food, says the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

As a result, 4.5 million – or one in three – South Sudanese
have fled their homes, almost 90 percent of them women and
children, the U.N. adds.

Around 2.5 million people have been forced to seek refuge in
Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo
and the Central African Republic. A further two million people
are displaced inside the country.

Aid workers agreed gender-based violence can leave
adolescent girls with mental health problems ranging from
paranoia and fear, to depression and despair, but said they had
not come across cases where girls were suicidal.

“Clearly the discrimination faced by girls increases and we
have seen many girls who are being forced into early marriage as
a negative consequence of conflict,” said Silvia Onate, child
protection specialist at Save the Children.

“Even if children have not experienced violence themselves,
they will have certainly witnessed members of their families
being killed, and some will face trauma and need psychosocial
support. There is however a lack of specialised care.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire
Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)