The starting point for a new beginning

32 boys released from opposition groups in South Sudan

UNICEF South Sudan
23 July 2019

Many of the boys released have been used by the armed groups since fighting again erupted in 2016 and they haven’t seen their families since.

A group of boys sitting on the group facing away from the camera
UNICEF South Sudan/2019/Pantaleoni
The boys are listening to speeches during the official release ceremony in Mirmir.

The day of the formal release is mostly a day of joy, but it is also a day of fear. Fear for the unknown. Many children are wondering whether family and friends will accept them after years in the ranks, where they were often forced to do horrible things. Families and the communities are often wondering if the children returning have changed since they were taken away from them.

An important part of the ceremony is when the commanders announce that the children are officially separated from the armed group. Children are also later provided with a certificate, proving they are released.

A commander stands right of frame
UNMISS/Nektarios Markogiannis
One of the commanders giving a speech during the release ceremony.

The release is just the first step on a longer journey back to a civilian life. As part of the three-year-long UNICEF-supported reintegration programme, their immediate needs are first attended to – such as medical care, clothes, soap, water and food. They are also given help to start the process of learning how to live with the memories and experiences and start looking forward. Enrolment into education programmes comes next.

A line of boys in yellow and blue t-shirts
UNMISS/Nektarios Markogiannis
The children released are lining up for receiving the reintegration package prepared for them.

Every child is provided with a dedicated social worker who will follow them through the reintegration programme. They will provide steady hands on the rough days, guidance and cheering when moving forward.

Boy receiving supplies
UNICEF South Sudan/2019/Pantaleoni
The children are receiving reintegration kits at the end of the ceremony.

After the ceremony is over, the children are returning to the communities. The first day of a new beginning in almost over. UNICEF can’t promise there won't be rainy days ahead, but we promise we will be there.

Boys along the edge and middle of a road
UNICEF South Sudan/2019/Pantaleoni
Children on their way home after the ceremony. The first day of their new future.

The comprehensive reintegration programme comes with a price tag, but there are no shortcuts in reintegration. This is why UNICEF is very thankful for the generous contributions from the US State Department, USAID and the EU.