Following the release of at least 32 children, forced to work as soldiers and undertake other roles by South Sudan armed opposition groups, the UN children’s fund, Unicef, has enrolled the boys, aged 13 to 17, in a three-year-long reintegration programme.
Unicef is providing the boys, who were released on Tuesday, with food, water, clothes and hygiene items and will also provide formal or vocational education and psychological support to the teenagers to help them overcome their traumatic experiences, Unicef reported on Wednesday.
In a statement, the organisation said that the mass release of the children was the first formal release to have ever occurred in former Unity State, one of the areas hardest hit by South Sudan’s war.
Some of the children have not seen their parents since 2016 when conflict in the world’s newest state once again erupted as government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir battled rebels from opposition leader Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition.
“Using children in armed groups violates almost every child right that exists,” said Mohamed Ag Ayoya, Unicef South Sudan representative.
“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.
“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.”
The organisation has supported the release of 3,143 children from armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan since the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people, erupted in 2013.
However, the agency estimates that 19,000 children are still being used by the armed forces and the various armed groups in the war-torn nation.
– African News Agency