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Hiddleston defends war zone children

Do Not UseDo Not Use 5/05/2016 By Sean Coughlan
Child soldier disarmament, Feb 2015: Child soldiers in South Sudan being disarmed last year - but more abductions followed © Getty Images Child soldiers in South Sudan being disarmed last year - but more abductions followed

Actor Tom Hiddleston has called for more support for children caught in conflict zones.

South Sudan, the world's youngest country, has struggled with conflict since independence © Reuters South Sudan, the world's youngest country, has struggled with conflict since independence

Hiddleston, star of the recent Night Manager TV drama, says "the strongest have to stand up for the weakest".

A visit to South Sudan as a Unicef ambassador accidentally brought Mr Hiddleston to the scene of a mass abduction of children.

"It felt very bleak, walking into an empty playground, seeing desks upturned. It felt very desolate."

On a trip last year in support of Unicef's work, Mr Hiddleston had been in a village in the north of South Sudan where 89 children had been seized from a school where they were preparing for an exam.

It is believed they were forcibly recruited by one of the country's armed groups - and have never been returned.

The actor told the BBC that he found himself "standing in the playground where pupils had been taken away".

His trip had also brought him to a "reunification ceremony" where the release of hundreds of former child soldiers had been negotiated allowing them to return to their families.

He said the visit ended up following in the footsteps of this story of child abductions and political violence.

Mr Hiddleston also travelled to a remote part of the country delivering food and medical supplies to families forced out of the towns by violence.

"You stand in the landscape and the horizon is so wide - and you see that there is nobody else helping," he said.

"It's our responsibility to stand up for those who don't have a voice.

"The world is a much smaller place than it once was, we're all so inter-connected. If there is cynicism, I'd say come and see for yourself if you don't believe me."

He said that the UK government should become a "leader in galvanising the attention of other countries" in the need for humanitarian relief, whether caused by natural disasters or political conflict.

"Everything we do as a nation, every single pound, goes towards making these children safer, to increasing their chances of survival and getting a fair start in life," he said of fund-raising efforts for Unicef.

Tens of thousands have been killed and about two million people left homeless in the violence in South Sudan.

The world's youngest country has been blighted with conflict since independence in 2011 - with renewed attempts at peace and reconciliation being launched last month.

Mr Hiddleston's call for more support came as Unicef published an international report warning that 462 million children, a quarter of the world's school-age children, were living in areas affected by a humanitarian crisis.

Among these, 75 million were in danger of missing out on access to education.

The millennium development goals had promised that all children would have access to primary education by 2015 - but that deadline passed with tens of millions still out of school.

There have been new global goals set for education for 2030 - and later this month there will be a World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, which will have education as one of its priorities.

There are plans for a $4bn (£2.8bn) emergency fund to support education in crisis, such as ensuring the refugees can have access to schools as well as food and shelter.

Josephine Bourne, Unicef's global chief of education, said: "Education changes lives in emergencies.

"Going to school keeps children safe from abuses like trafficking and recruitment into armed groups and is a vital investment in children's futures and in the future of their communities."

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