A ray of hope for South Sudanese women and girls who have suffered brutal sexual violence during the country’s ongoing war received a much-needed boost as churches across South Sudan, which split for Sudan in 2011, are urging local communities to accept and help rehabilitate the women as they attempt to return to daily life.

Many of these women are returning after being kept in captivity as sex slaves. Many of those who return have been rejected by their families and have been treated as outcasts by their communities.

The South Sudanese government and anti-government rebels signed a peace deal in September 2018 in the hope that it would end a civil war that began in 2013 and has killed more than 11,000 people. In some regions, however, armed men continue beating, abducting, raping, and enslaving women. The government claims to have been launched investigations into cases of sexual violence and has said that it has offered to counsel some of the victims, but admits that there are areas where they are “unable to reach”.

South Sudan’s churches have not been silent. They have been providing medical aid services as well as education in order to raise awareness of the problem.

In an attempt to reduce the victims’ suffering, the South Sudan Council of Churches urged all citizens to refrain from discriminating, rejecting, restraining, or stigmatising the victims.

“We invite all religious officials – both priests and imams – in all local communities to assist and express their support against the stigmatisation of women who have survived. We call on them to actively fight against the condemnation and rejection of survivors,” a Roman Catholic priest in South Sudan stated.

In 2018, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan documented 238 cases of sexual violence involving 1,291 victims.