LEER, South Sudan, 24 July 2019 - Yesterday, 32 children were released from armed opposition groups in Leer county, in northern South Sudan. This is the first formal release in former Unity State, one of the areas hardest hit by the conflict. The children are all boys aged between 13 and 17.
The children were formally separated from the armed group during a ceremony in Leer, witnessed by parents and community members. Some of the children have been used by the armed groups since the conflict flared up in 2016 and have not seen their parents since.
“Using children in armed groups violates almost every child right that exists,” said UNICEF South Sudan representative Mohamed Ag Ayoya. “These children are deprived of a childhood and have seen things children should never experience. However, it is not too late to give them a future and that future started today.”
After the formal release, the children are enrolled in a three-year-long UNICEF supported reintegration programme. They are provided with basic services such as food, water, clothes and hygiene items. Furthermore, they are provided with formal or vocational education and psychosocial support to learn how to live with their experiences. A social worker is designated to each child and will follow them throughout the programme, providing support.
Communities are also being prepared to receive the children, as they will need a lot of support as they transition to a civil life, following years in the ranks of armed groups.
“Reintegration has no shortcuts. It takes time and comes with a price tag, but we have seen this gives the best results and prevents children from returning to the armed groups later,” Ayoya said. “We therefore call on donors to continue supporting the reintegration programmes, helping the released children making a better future for themselves.”
Since the conflict erupted in 2013, UNICEF has supported the release of 3,143 children from armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan. UNICEF is working closely together with the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration commission (DDRC) and other partners, supporting these children. UNICEF estimates that 19,000 children are used by armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan.
For the upcoming three years, UNICEF’s Child Protection Programme has a budget of US$5 million for the prevention of recruitment and the release and reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups. Only one-fifth of that budget is currently funded, by USAID.
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