Defying the odds for better future: The right to education for child refugees

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

By Thon Deng, Khartoum.

The 2011 Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (TCSS) grants every able person an inherent right to education. This right is set out in article 29, which decrees education as a a right for every citizen to be provided by the government without discrimination. This article goes on to assert that primary education shall be both compulsory and free, helping strengthen our illiteracy eradication programs. During our bitter 21 year struggle for independence, many children were required to join the movement and train before being sent to school. This was to ensure that the future of the movement was filled with committed cadets of international standard. The enrolled children were assigned to caretakers and teachers, whilst those too young to fight were sent directly to school. Some of these children overcame the odds of the civil war and left Sudan to study abroad, achieving academic excellence whilst there. Most South Sudanese refugee children were fortunate enough to progress in formal education, from primary school to university, undergraduate to postgraduate.

It is important that United Nations agencies coordinate directly with host countries to ensure every refugee child receives the best education. As we have seen time and time again, refugee children can overcome educational challenges if given the chance. This has been a case with number of Southern Sudanese who were child refugees during the war, and are now scholars.

Hence, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) must engage with UNICEF to prioritise the education of child refugees, helping them to cope with life after returning home. Whilst life in refugee camps is very difficult, there is always hope for better. This exist both in terms of stable countries abroad and repatriation to their home nations.Other stakeholders, such as the host governments and parents, should encourage refugee children to adhere to their educational aspirations notwithstanding the enormous challenges faced by them in these camps.

Supporting better futures for our children should be collectively encouraged not only by parents, but also by the UNHCR and other stakeholders.The importance of overcoming obstacles faced by refugees and their families should include raising awareness of how one can transform their fortune, refugee or not. Both future and past leaders of South Sudan were at one point refugees in foreign countries. For instance, our founding father Dr John Garang de Mabior was once a refugee in Kenya before moving abroad for further education.

Government institutions should also motivate parents on the importance of illiteracy eradication programmes. In this regard, there is a little to be said. Defying the odds for a better future is a personal well-planned goal which could pay off in the long run and should be taken seriously by all stakeholders.

There should be no doubt that refugee children can achieve whatever they want in life, much like children not affected by war. Despite this, child refugees have various challenges that inhibit their success. For instance, the insecurity of moving from one camp to another, restrictions on and isolation from accessing government schools are important to consider.

Children without parents miss out on a huge amount of parental support and motivation. Despite this, history has shown that being a child refugee does not mean an inability to compete with children from stable nations. Records in East Africa countries show that most South Sudanese refugee children excel very well in school, with some getting scholarships to Canada, Australia and the USA. Refugee children often show their extracurricular talents and abilities in the countries they seek refuge. Today, there are many child refugees doing very well in activities such as sports and poetry.

More attention must be shown to refugee girls. Often, their schools are lesser than those of just boys. It is here that UNICEF and the UNHCR must collaborate with international NGOs to prioritise female education. This will help stem the high dropout rate of female refugees from school. These forms of support should be extended to South Sudanese refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). These IDPs have been camps for over seven years, missing out on the best education and opportunities for socio-economic participation in their country bequeathed to them by God and their forefathers.

Overcoming the odds is based on resilience and defying daunting obstacles. For example, those who are under Sudan’s government went to school despite the discrimination against them. Moreover, children who were in the Red Army in then rebel areas were able to combine studies and the AK-47. Some of these people are now lawyers, doctors and engineers to mention but a few. The need for strong education in South Sudan was supported by SPLA/M leadership. Those who were too young to continue in the army were released from training camps and instructed to go back to school. Some of them like my learned advisor Lual J. Alaak left Kalacha army base near Kapoeta to Kenya. Here, he defied the odds for a brighter future.

In the realms of odds, it is prudent for parents and students not to give in to the challenges of life. This is because any success is embedded beyond many hurdles

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