16 June 2008 - Statement by UNICEF Sudan on the occasion of the Day of the African Child
The Day of the African Child commemorates the day in 1976 when children in Soweto, South Africa, demonstrated at their right to be educated in their own language. Their peaceful protest was marred by violence, resulting in the death of hundreds and injuries to more than 1,000 people. Every year, countries across the continent mark this occasion to underline their commitment to children’s rights to speak out on issues that affect them, and to recognize the need to invest more in children and young people.
Here in Sudan, the potential of many children to play an active part in the future of their communities is being affected by their recruitment into armed forces and groups, and that is why we are focusing on this particular issue today. UNICEF estimates that up to 8,000 children are associated with such forces and groups across Sudan. Each one of these children is being denied their full right to childhood, and faces potential threats to their safety, wellbeing and development every day.
Great efforts have been made since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 to bring an end to child recruitment and to help children associated with armed forces and groups to return to civilian life. In 2007 alone, UNICEF and others were able to report the identification of more than 1,400 such children, with more than 400 safely reunited with their families, and efforts to trace the families of the remaining children ongoing.
The Government of National Unity has outlawed the recruitment and use of children in its armed forces, through revisions to the Armed Forces Act. In Southern Sudan, the SPLA has made a clear commitment to helping children in its ranks back to their homes, and has established child demobilization units within it barracks to prevent children reinserting themselves in their forces.
But too many children remain at risk of recruitment. There must be greater efforts by us all to put an end to this practice.
Communities and families must speak out and say “no” to child recruitment. Military commanders must help identify children who have become associated with their units, and work with demobilization partners to help these children return to their families. Government leaders must ensure that the legal protection in place to protect children from recruitment is firmly upheld.
We must also play our part in assisting children who do leave armed forces and groups to be successfully rehabilitated within their communities. UNICEF strongly believes that such support must be part of broader programmes that assist vulnerable children – children formerly associated with armed forces and groups should not be treated as a separate section of society, and we must not do anything that creates a stigma around their former activities. Children who have been attached to military groups are victims, and should be treated as such, with the care and support that will enable them to find a constructive, productive and inclusive role in their communities.
As we remember today those children in Soweto who stood up for their rights as children, let us stand together for those children in Sudan whose rights to a childhood have been taken away – and commit ourselves to a Sudan free of child recruitment, and a Sudan where every child can play her or his full role in shaping the future of their homeland.