NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One in four adolescent girls in South Sudan has considered killing herself, traumatized 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 neighbor 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 specialized care.”