|© UN Photo/Isaac Billy|
|The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the United Nations signed an agreement on 12 March 2012 to stop child recruitment. "Not only does this action plan ensure the government's commitment that SPLA will have no children within its ranks, but all armed groups who have accepted amnesty with government must release their children," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict.|
By Siddartha Shrestha and Julius Uma
JUBA, South Sudan, 13 March 2012 – The United Nations and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on Monday signed an agreement in which the army renewed its commitment to release all children from its ranks.
The agreement, a revised action plan on children associated with the army, was signed by Lt. General Pieng Deng Koul, SPLA’s Deputy Chief of General Staff for Administration; Lise Grande, the UN Deputy Special Representative to the Secretary General in South Sudan; and Pelucy Ntambirweki, Deputy Representative for UNICEF. Witnessing the agreement were Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and Dr. Majak Agot Atem, Honorable Deputy Minister for Defense and Veteran Affairs.
Since 2003, the SPLA has been included on the UN Secretary-General’s list of parties to conflict that reportedly recruit and use children. The army committed to the action plan in 2009, before South Sudan’s independence, but this agreement marks the first time the SPLA, in its capacity as a national army, affirms its commitment to refrain from recruiting or using children.
|© UN Photo/Isaac Billy|
|Lt. General Pieng Deng Koul, Deputy Chief of General Staff for Administration, SPLA; Lise Grande, UN Deputy Special Representative to the Secretary General in South Sudan; and Pelucy Ntambirweki, Deputy Representative for UNICEF in South Sudan prepare to sign the agreement which renews the SPLA's commitment to release all children in the army.|
Prioritizing the children of South Sudan
Speaking at the event in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Ms. Coomaraswamy emphasized that the signing of the action plan was crucial for the SPLA as it transforms from a movement into a national army.
“This is an important day for South Sudan – the world’s newest country. Not only does this action plan ensure the government’s commitment that the SPLA will have no children within its ranks, but all armed groups who have accepted amnesty with the government must also release their children,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said.
She appealed to the Government of South Sudan to ensure full and effective implementation of the action plan. “With this agreement, we hope children will spend more time in schools with books and not in the barracks,” she said.
Ms. Ntambirweki described the signing of the action plan as a “new dawn” in efforts to protect children in South Sudan, and urged all partners to ensure that the agreement is fully realized.
“All forms of violations and abuses against children will be defeated if the agreement is fully implemented,” she said.
The SPLA Deputy Chief of General Staff for Administration said the action plan will prove to the world that South Sudan is committed to protecting children and ending child recruitment. “The SPLA has, since the days of the liberation struggle, been committed to a child-free army, and this agreement will indeed confirm the mandate of the army,” he said.
|© UNICEF 2012/South Sudan/La Rose|
|Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, stands with President of the Republic of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit after a meeting about the government’s commitment to release all children from the army.|
UNICEF in action
UNICEF works closely with the Republic of South Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RSSDDRC), the SPLA and the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) child protection unit (CPU) to address the issue of children associated with armed forces and groups, coordinating the identification, verification and registration of children in military barracks.
With support from UNICEF, the SPLA has established child protection units that are trained in children’s rights. UNICEF also supports organizations that work to trace the families of children formerly used by armed groups and that help those children return to their communities.
“Amidst all the tremendous challenges South Sudan faces, it is indeed commendable to see those prioritizing children at the forefront of their agenda,” said Cornelius Williams, UNICEF Eastern & Southern Africa Regional Child Protection Advisor. "We are hopeful that the other countries in the region would be encouraged to follow the positive steps taken by this new nation."
Sixteen-year-old Abraham Mapour, who was once recruited by the army, offered insight into the needs of children like him.
“Initially, I thought there was no life outside the army. Now, I have come to realize being in school has given me the required skills and confidence to look forward to a bright future,” he said. “I am now getting an opportunity to discover my childhood.”