The South Sudan Council of Churches has denounced the stigmatisation of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in the strife-torn African nation.

In a statement released last week to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the council condemned sexual violence as "one of the most heinous crimes committed during conflicts" and warned that acts such as rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage were all crimes under South Sudanese law and "inconsistent with teachings and principles of Christian faith".

The statement, which was signed by church leaders including representatives of Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Pentecostal denominations, went on to acknowledge the suffering endured by survivors of sexual violence and the "profound consequences" for their families and society as a whole and expressed concerns that some survivors are "condemned and rejected by their families and as a result are ostracised and relegated to the margins of society turning them into outcast" (sic).

Calling on communities to "welcome back" survivors who are returning after captivity from state and non-state forces and refrain from discriminating against, rejecting and stigmatising  all survivors of violence-related sexual violence, the statement emphasized the willingness of the church and religious communities to work to improve the lives of survivors.

"We, as the church, remain committed to support all endeavours aimed at fighting the stigma associated with conflict-related sexual violence as well as provide spiritual and material support to survivors according to resources available," it said.

A report presented to the UN Security Council earlier this year said there had been an "alarming increase" in the incidents of conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan last year. It said the United Nations Mission in South Sudan had documented 238 incidents involving 1,291 victims, most of whom were women and girls.

The report said the most common violation was abduction for the purposes of sexual slavery, followed by rape and gang rape, while other violations included attempted rape, forced marriage and forced abortion.