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'If youth do not feel secure in their own country, we're not giving them a safe space'

JUBA, South Sudan – Young people are among the most adversely affected by the conflict in the country, with boys being forced to join fighting armed groups and girls being subjected to sexual and gender-based violence.

This was the sentiment aired by 18-year-old youth peer educator Emmanuela Dwatuka Arkangelo at a media forum for the International Youth Day, where she also emphasized the importance of providing a safe space for the youth to raise their voices, be heard and participate in the decision-making process on national issues.

“If boys are being forcibly taken by armed groups and girls are getting raped, there won’t be any hope for the future,” Ms. Arkangelo said. “If they feel that they are not secure in their own country, then we are not providing a safe space for them to develop. If the country itself is not giving them that safe space, that means there is no future for the country.”

Ms. Arkangelo said cultural practices such as child marriage also destroy the future of young girls. More than 70 per cent of South Sudan’s 12 million population are 30 years old and below. Government data also show that 45 per cent of girls are already married by the age of 18.

“We need to create a safe space for young people to be heard and raise their voices. They need to be given the chance to participate in the decision-making and planning processes because they can influence change and steer the country to development,” Ms. Arkangelo stressed.

The isolation being experienced by the young people, she said, affects their ability to access education and health care. “The old generation is going, the future of this country is now on the shoulders of the youth so we must support them.”

UNFPA Country Representative Dr. Mary Otieno echoed the young girl’s voice and called for investment in the health and education of South Sudan’s young population. “When young people are empowered with reproductive health rights and education, they will be more than ready to face the future as productive members of their communities. It improves their employability and increases their chances of getting out of poverty,” Dr. Otieno said. She added though that to realize this economic benefit, deliberate policy actions and concrete investments should be put in place now.

For the country to realize demographic dividend, deliberate actions and investments should be made now, said Dr. Otieno.


Dr. Otieno also reiterated UNFPA’s support to creating safe spaces to pave the way for the meaningful engagement of young people. But she emphasized that a safe space is not just about physical space – it is also about ensuring that young people’s voices are being heard.

“We must deliberately create safe spaces at the discussion tables, in Parliament, in schools, in health facilities for our young people to participate meaningfully on decisions that will affect them, not only as the largest demographic group but also as rights holders,” Dr. Otieno said.

Patricia Adrupio David, a midwifery scholar, cited her experience being in a “safe space” like the Juba College of Nursing and Midwifery which is being supported by UNFPA under Strengthening Midwifery Services Project in South Sudan.

Ms. David emphasized the importance of giving South Sudan’s youth the opportunity to learn in school especially during the crisis as there are negative elements such crimes and drugs that could easily influence the idle youth.

“Because of the opportunity given to me through the scholarship programme under UNFPA’s midwifery project, I have the chance to become a midwife, which is what I want to become, and contribute to saving the lives of mothers and newborns,” Ms. David said.

Patricia and Emmanuela at the International Youth Day forum.