Health Care

Armed groups in South Sudan release more than 300 child soldiers

Armed groups in South Sudan release more than 300 child soldiers

"It is the largest release of children in almost three years and it is vital that negotiations continue so there are many more days like this". Being able to support themselves economically can be a key factor in children becoming associated with armed groups. The knowledge and skills they learned here will help them to start a new life once they are reintegrated into their communities.

More than 300 child soldiers have been released by armed groups in South Sudan, the second-largest such release since civil war began there five years ago.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that 311 children were freed: 224 boys and 87 girls.

Some 215 children were released by the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM), which in 2016 signed a peace agreement with the Government and is now integrating its ranks into the national army. "It is vital that they receive the support they need to rejoin their communities and that they are welcomed home by family and friends without any sense of stigma".

"The continued recruitment and use of children by the military and opposing armed groups points to the utter impunity that reigns in South Sudan, and the awful cost of this war on children", Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a report this week.

"Not all children are forcibly recruited".

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The various warring parties on December 21 past year signed a cessation of hostilities agreement and agreed to surrender enlisted children to UNICEF within 14 days, but it was yet to be complied with.

"Children should not be carrying guns and killing each other", said David Shearer, head of UNMISS. "They should be playing, learning, having fun with friends, protected and cherished by the adults around them".

Although aid workers were optimistic, they anxious that renewed violence could force the children back into armed groups.

"We are particularly concerned about a number of girls being released who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence".

The children will be given medical screenings, as well as counselling and psychosocial support, as part of a reintegration programme implemented by Unicef and other aid groups.

Christopher, 17-year-old former soldier A newly released child soldier holds his rifle during Wednesday's ceremony. "It is jeopardizing the country's next generation", Loha said.


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