32 children released from opposition groups in South Sudan

24 July 2019
On 17 April 2018 in Yambio, South Sudan, [NAMES CHANGED] (right-left) Ganiko, 12 yrs, and Jackson, 13 yrs, stand during a ceremony to release children from the ranks of armed groups and start a process of reintegration. Jackson and Ganiko were best friends when they served together with the armed group.
Two children recruited by an armed group stand during a ceremony for children who have been released in Yambio, South Sudan.

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. 

Media contacts

Yves Willemot
Chief of Communication
UNICEF South Sudan
Tel: +211 91 216 2888
Helene Sandbu Ryeng
UNICEF South Sudan
Tel: + 211 921 61 5824

Additional resources

A young boy sits holding a UNICEF bag in South Sudan.
A child sits holding a UNICEF school bag he received during the launch of the new South Sudan National curriculum 2019 in Juba, South Sudan.

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