Sudan crisis: Children forced to work, skip meals as situation worsens

Children are being forced to work long hours in Sudan as the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis continues to deteriorate, Save the Children said.

Monstaser, 14, goes to the market every afternoon to sell sweets to support his family, sometimes staying out until 10pm. Whatever he earns – usually the equivalent of US $2-3 – he gives to his mother Ihasan to contribute towards feeding their family.

“Every day after school, I go to the market to sell sweets. Sometimes I feel very tired. I come home at 10pm after work,” said Montaser. “My mother has to wake me up in the morning. I do not have time for anything else, but work and school. I never play.”

Montaser’s situation is just one example of the many hardships facing children in Sudan, where economic and political tensions have seen a rise in hunger levels, and an additional 50,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in 2021 compared to 2020. [i]

Montaser and his family – mother Ihasan, brother Moayad (12), sisters Arig (6) and Ibtihaj (25), and Ibtihaj’s three children – live in Khartoum, Sudan, where they move from another state 23 years ago in search of a better quality of life and access to healthcare.

But their lives have become increasingly difficult since Montaser’s father died seven years ago, and since the onset of a financial crisis that saw inflation in the country rise to one of the highest levels in the world. UN humanitarian partners estimate that about 14.3 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2022 – the highest it’s been in a decade, and a 800,000-person increase compared to 2021. That figure translates to 30 per cent of the population.

Ihasan, 42, said: “After my husband died, I worked in different jobs: I sold tea, sometimes I worked as a cleaner in restaurants or companies. I was still receiving medical treatment and I had to go to the hospital on many days. The companies released me, because I missed too many days at work.’

Ihasan and her daughter Ibtihaj try to get whatever casual work they can, and nothing is more important than putting food on the table so that her children can survive. Often, she can only afford to do this once a day. Goods such as coffee and tea are now a distant luxury and she cannot afford to spend money on other essentials, like repairs on the house, clothes or anything her children might need for school.

Ihasan said: ‘The most important thing for me is to provide food for my children and that they can continue with their education. Often, we only have one meal per day, either lunch or dinner, depending on how the day went. We are barely getting by.

Montaser and his younger brother Moayad receive school meals as part of a Save the Children supported programme funded by the World Food Programme. The meal allows them to attend school during the morning instead of working all day and helps them focus on learning.

Ibtihaj, 25, said: “Currently, we are only eating one meal per day, because we cannot afford more. The school feeding programme is very helpful for my two brothers. The impact of the price rise in the last two years is very tough. We manage by buying fewer things. Also, some things we do not buy any longer like tea and coffee. We also buy less sugar. We buy only the cheapest things. We also struggle to buy charcoal, because it is expensive.”

Save the Children’s Country Director in Sudan, Arshad Malik, said:

“In the coming year nearly 10 million people in Sudan will face a daily struggle to have enough food to eat, among them more 5 million children [ii]. The situation is critical. Families like Montaser’s need more and better social protection programs to get food on their table, a quality education, and safe and fulfilling work for parents.

“We urge the Government of Sudan to provide more social protection programs to help vulnerable families get back on their feet in the new year, and we call on the international community to provide financial support for these programs. Programs for the most vulnerable in the country, like the family support program which has currently been suspended, must be revived as a matter of urgency.”

Save the Children has been partnering with the World Food Program (WFP) and the Government of Sudan to deliver school meals to children across Sudan. School feeding programs play a critical role in developing future generations and reducing disparities by facilitating access to education and building back better following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Save the Children in Sudan operates humanitarian and development programming in 10 out of 18 states across the sectors of education, child protection, child rights governance, health, nutrition, access to water and sanitation, and shelter.

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