Critical programs providing support for children released from armed forces and groups in South Sudan may be forced to end next month if urgently needed funds are not provided, UNICEF warned today to mark Red Hand Day (International Day against the use of Child Soldiers).
900 children are already registered for release, but without urgent new funding, UNICEF will not be able to provide support as they transition to civilian life.
The three-year reintegration programme costs just US$2,000 per child, providing psychosocial support and a dedicated social worker, family tracing and reunification, education services, and other vital services to help children rebuild their lives.
Former child soldier, author and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Ishmael Beah knows first-hand how critical these support services are. In 1991, the outbreak of a civil war in Sierra Leone upended the lives of millions. Beah’s parents and two brothers were killed and he was forcibly recruited into war at the age of 13.
After two years, with UNICEF’s help, he was removed from the army and placed in a rehabilitation home. On the current funding gap in South Sudan, he says: “We must renew our commitment to ending the use of children in war. One of the most important and necessary steps is the reintegration of children and therefore I urge and plead with the world to help fund programs in South Sudan so that those children can begin a process of leaving violence behind and remaking themselves. Let’s please not let them down at this crucial and fragile stage. Let’s give them hope through our support so they know they aren’t forgotten once again.”
With the likely formation of a unified government in South Sudan in February and hopefully prolonged peace, UNICEF expects more children to be released and in need of support. Release of children without sufficient support can lead to long-term repercussions for the children affected and have a destabilising effect on communities.
The programme has been severely underfunded for over a year, with the organisation forced to divert resources from other areas of work to sustain the crucial support to incredibly vulnerable children. With these funds now exhausted, UNICEF is left with no choice but to suspend the reintegration programme if fresh resources are not made available.
“The word frustration doesn’t even come close to how I feel about the situation,” UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan, Mohamed Ag Ayoya, said.
“Children are registered, verified, and ready to be released, UNICEF has a proven and effective reintegration programme, yet we don’t have the funding to continue this vital work. My grievances are on behalf of the children who are ready to get started on their new lives, reclaiming their childhood.”
Since 2015, UNICEF has supported the release and reintegration of 3,677 children who were used by armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan. The reintegration programme is comprehensive. It addresses multiple challenges these children face, ensures effective reintegration into civil life and prevents children from being re-recruited. Most children who completed the programme have not returned to armed forces or groups.
UNICEF South Sudan requires US$4.2 million for 2020 to cover new releases and the immediate enrolment into reintegration programmes and for the continuation of the programme for children released previously. If adequate funding is provided, UNICEF will be able to support some 2,100 children released from armed forces and armed groups over the coming year.