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Improving police services for South Sudan’s most vulnerable groups


In South Sudan, providing safety and justice to some of the most vulnerable groups in society remains a challenge.  Since 2010 the South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) has founded 14 Special Protection Units (SPUs) throughout the country to provide specialised policing services to women, children and vulnerable groups.  However in a country where government institutions are still nascent, some of the SPUs were found to be struggling to deliver the required services. 

In October 2014 Social Development Direct was approached by DFID South Sudan to support the SSNPS in a review of the SPUs to establish whether they were providing a suitable service to their target groups, and how to improve that support.

An SDDirect team led by Lydia Stone took a participatory research approach, supporting the SSNPS to take the lead on the research and involving contributions from other key stakeholders including the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, UNDP, UNICEF, Israid and a range of CSOs.   This was a particularly challenging and sensitive piece of work in the midst of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan and special focus was put on to the needs of internally displaced people as a vulnerable group. The assessment focused on the potential for service delivery to communities in Protection of Civilian sites and those suffering as a result of conflict-related sexual violence.

The research teams conducted field visits to SPUs in four states to meet with and consult staff and service users of the SPUs. As well as talking about the service that the police provided, members of the community also explained the reasons why they often preferred not to use the SPUs, one interviewee said, “Women feel shameful to be investigated, sometimes in a rude manner. Some police sometimes ask them to return home and solve the issue at home. That makes them reluctant to come and report.”  Another said “The police should do some sensitizations for the women through media, and inform women and people in general about the services they officer, especially in the SPU. Many women do not know that there is a special unit that protects and serve them.”

How this work was used

To share the findings of the assessment the research team gave a presentation that was attended by the SSNPS’s Inspector General of Police, the British Ambassador, the Undersecretary of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and senior members of the SSNPS as well as representatives from civil society and the international community.  A shared set of recommendations around resourcing, training, protocols and communications was agreed upon and has since been adopted by the SSNPS as the cornerstone of the newly formed SPU Directorate.


  • SDDirect’s in depth understanding of the South Sudanese context culture and conflict dynamics was essential to ensure that this piece of work was a success.
  • We focused on ensuring that the research was locally owned and that the recommendations were realistic, achievable and able to achieve wide-based support.


Photo caption: Police officer from the Special Protection Unit in Wau visits detainees (credit- Lydia Stone)