UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell warns of a deepening crisis for children following a visit to Sudan

More than 400 children reportedly killed or injured in Sudan’s El Fasher in past seven weeks while hunger continues to haunt the country’s children

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PORT SUDAN, Sudan, 26 June 2024 – Children across Sudan are continuing to pay a devastating price for the conflict that has ravaged the country, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell warned, following a visit to Port Sudan. More than half of the country’s 24 million children – some 14 million – are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and almost all of Sudan’s children are not in school.

Reports of serious rights violations against children continue at an alarming rate, with more than 3,800 children reportedly killed or injured since the escalation in April 2023. In North Darfur, more than 400 children have reportedly been killed and maimed in the recent escalation in the fighting in and around El Fasher, while the continued use of explosive weapons in populated areas is creating further risks for children and families. Civilians are trapped in the fighting and less than a week ago the Saudi Maternity Hospital, the remaining functioning hospital providing maternal and paediatric services in El Fasher, was shelled.

“More than a year into this brutal war, the pain and suffering of children in Sudan continue to grow,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Whether trapped between the frontlines, forced from their homes, or witnessing their communities torn apart, children’s lives have been turned upside down. This is the biggest child displacement crisis in the world. Children do not start wars, but they pay the highest price. We need the world to know what is happening to the children of Sudan and insist that all parties stop the violence and end this war.”

Nearly 9 million children are grappling with acute food insecurity and lack of access to safe drinking water. Almost 4 million children under five suffer from acute malnutrition, with 730,000 of those projected to be at imminent risk of dying. Combined with a drop in vaccination coverage due to fighting and access restrictions, and ongoing disease outbreaks such as cholera, measles, malaria and dengue fever, hundreds of thousands of more children are at risk of dying.

In Sudan, Russell met with several children who shared painful stories of loss. An 11-year-old girl, Areeg, described how she had fled her home when war came to Khartoum and that her friend next door had been killed. Areeg and her family were then forced to flee again following fighting in Al Jazirah state, before ending up in a tent in Port Sudan. “Life here is difficult,” she said. “Leaving Khartoum made me very sad.” She now comes to a UNICEF-run Child Friendly Space where she can draw, play and be a child for a few hours. “I love to draw,” said Areeg. “I can put all my emotions into the drawings.”

Another girl, Malaz, 15, told Russell that she hoped her parents, both teachers, could get work so they could afford food. Like so many others, they fled the fighting without any of their belongings. “We had a house in Khartoum,” said Malaz. “It was a little house but it was home.”

“The war is creating a lethal combination of displacement, disease and hunger – the perfect storm for a conflict-induced famine and the catastrophic loss of children’s lives,” said Russell. “With 17 million children not in school, the war could have a generational impact on the lives of these children.”

On Monday, Russell joined an event in Nairobi, Kenya, co-organized by USAID, Save the Children and UNICEF alongside children who fled the war in Sudan to call for urgent action for the millions of Sudanese children whose lives have been upended by war.

With war putting the future of Sudan’s 24 million children at risk, UNICEF is calling for:

  • All parties to end grave violations against children, including the killing and maiming of children, sexual violence, recruitment into armed groups, and attacks against schools and hospitals. Civilians, including children and women, and civilian installations, must be protected at all times.
  • A ceasefire and steps towards a lasting peace.
  • Immediate and unfettered humanitarian access across conflict lines and borders, including Darfur, Al Jazirah, Khartoum, and Kordofan.
  • A fully funded humanitarian response.

UNICEF is appealing for US$840 million to deliver a package of child protection, education, health, nutrition, water, sanitation and cash assistance for children in Sudan.

“Children displaced in Sudan and those who have fled across borders all told me they want the same two things,” said Russell. “They want to return home, and they want the war to end.”


Notes for editors:

Multimedia materials available here: https://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AM4084IMD6X


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