|© UNICEF Sudan/2004/Parker|
|In February 2004, UNICEF assisted with demobilization of child soldiers|
SOUTHERN SUDAN, 13 October 2004 – In the war-torn country of Sudan – its Darfur region currently the focus of world attention – child soldiers are slowly being demobilized from armed groups. In the last three years, tens of thousands of children have returned home after serving in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA) movement.
Since the mid-1980s, UNICEF has played a key role in advocating for and securing the release of children from armed groups around the world. It is estimated that 300,000 children are currently serving in 30 conflict areas.
In 2001, UNICEF airlifted thousands of child soldiers out of conflict areas to safety zones. It was the largest effort of its kind ever undertaken in Southern Sudan.
Since then, an additional 20,000 Sudanese child soldiers have been released from armed groups.
Today the demobilization process continues in cooperation with the SPLA. UNICEF remains active in this process by assisting in negotiations with rebel groups and offering the children assistance in reintegrating into society. Many former child soldiers are still scarred from their traumatic experiences and need of many forms of support, from counselling to education, once they rejoin their communities.
The transition is not always easy, because for some children the armed groups represent the only family they can remember. And despite the terrible experiences these children have undergone while they were soldiers, it can be difficult for them to make a new life outside the rebel communities.
Thousands of children remain with armed forces
Rough estimates suggest there may be several thousand child soldiers remaining with various armed forces in Sudan. Many of them are thought to be southerners who have been involved with government or associated forces in the 21-year-old war.
However, thanks to international intervention, thousands of children have been able to lay down their weapons instead of their lives, as Africa’s longest-running civil war continues – even amidst peace talks in the capital of Khartoum.