UNICEF calls for better protection for Sudan’s children trapped in ‘unrelenting nightmare’

People prepare food outdoors in a Khartoum, Sudan, neighborhood.
People prepare and wait for food in Khartoum, Sudan, where violence has brought chaos.
(Associated Press)

The conflict in Sudan has killed more than 330 children and left 13 million more in dire need of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations Children’s Fund says, calling on the country’s warring factions to better protect vulnerable young people.

For two months, Sudan’s military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohamed Hamden Dagalo, have been locked in a deadly power struggle. The fighting has killed more than 958 civilians, according to Sudan’s Doctors’ Syndicate, which only tracks civilian casualties. The true death toll is likely much higher.

“Children are trapped in an unrelenting nightmare, bearing the heaviest burden of a violent crisis they had no hand in creating — caught in the crossfire, injured, abused, displaced and subjected to disease and malnutrition,” Mandeep O’Brien, United Nations Children’s Fund representative in Sudan, said in a report issued Friday.


According to the United Nations’ latest figures, the eight weeks of fighting have displaced more than 2 million people across the country, with lawlessness and ethnic violence intensifying across the Darfur region.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, accounted for the 13 million children. There are roughly 21 million children in Sudan, which had a population of over 45 million before the conflict broke out.

At least 60 infants, toddlers and older children died while trapped in horrific conditions in an orphanage in Sudan’s capital as fighting raged outside.

May 31, 2023

The International Committee of the Red Cross recently rescued 297 children from an orphanage in Khartoum. The operation came after 71 children had died from hunger and illness in the facility since mid-April.

In West Darfur province, “at least 14,836 children under five are expected to be severely malnourished,” UNICEF said. For weeks, the restive province has been under a near-complete communications blackout.

Khamis Abdalla Abkar, the governor of West Darfur, was abducted and killed Wednesday hours after he accused the RSF and allied Arab militias of attacking local communities across the province’s capital, Genena. Abkar made the accusation during a telephone interview with the Saudi-owned television station, Al-Hadath.

Later Wednesday, video footage circulating on social media showed a group of armed men, some wearing RSF uniforms, detaining Abkar. Shortly after, new footage — too graphic to broadcast — purportedly showed Abkar lying on the ground motionless with wounds in his neck and face.


Fighting in Sudan between forces loyal to two top generals has put that nation at risk of collapse and could have consequences far beyond its borders.

April 21, 2023

On Thursday, Sudan’s Military and United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission, or UNITAMS, blamed the RSF and affiliated Arab militias for the killing.

“Compelling eyewitness accounts attribute this act to Arab militias and the Rapid Support Forces,” UNITAMS said in a short statement.

The RSF denied any involvement in the murder, instead blaming “outlaws” for killing Abkar. The paramilitary accused the military and its intelligence service of fueling tribal conflict, in a post on its social media page on Thursday.

In the early 2000s, African tribes in Darfur that had long complained of discrimination rebelled against Khartoum’s Islamist government, which responded with a military campaign that the International Criminal Court later said amounted to genocide. The state-backed Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, were accused of widespread killings, rapes and other atrocities. The Janjaweed later folded into the RSF.

UNICEF said it needed $838 million to address the crisis.