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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.‎



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