UNICEF and partners have secured release of 3,000 children from the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction: one of the largest ever releases of children in combat roles.
UNICEF said the first group of 280 children were released today, at the village of Gumuruk in the Jonglei State in eastern South Sudan. Further phased releases of children will occur over the coming month.
The children, aged between 11 and 19 years, were recruited by the South Sudan Democratic Army’s (SSDA) Cobra Faction, led by David Yau Yau. In the past year, 12,000 children, mostly boys, have been recruited and used as soldiers by armed forces and groups in South Sudan as a whole. One child spoken to by UNICEF said he had been recruited at the age of eight.
Of the children released today, and to be released over the coming weeks, some have been fighting for up to four years.
The children surrendered weapons and uniforms in a ceremony overseen by the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission and the Cobra Faction.
UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch said the children UNICEF would support with health care, protection services and basic necessities such as food, water and clothing were forced into work and situations not fit for any child.
“These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience,” Mr Veitch said.
Mr Veith said the children released today would be supported to reunite with families and provided counselling and other psychological support, along with access to education and skills training programs.
“The release of thousands of children requires a massive response to provide the support and protection these children need to begin rebuilding their lives,” Mr Veitch said.
UNICEF is working to trace and reunify the children with their families, a daunting task in a country where more than one million children have either been displaced internally or have fled to neighbouring countries since fighting broke out in December 2013.
Support will extend to local communities to prevent and reduce discrimination against the returning children and also to prevent possible recruitment.
“The successful reintegration of these children back into their communities depends on a timely, co-ordinated response to meet their immediate and long-term needs. These programs require significant resources,” Mr Veitch said.
UNICEF has received $2.2 million from the IKEA Foundation – a first and critical contribution to funding for the release and reintegration program – and is appealing for an additional $10 million in support. Other donors include the EU and both the German and British National Committees of UNICEF.
Source: UNICEF Australia
Image Source: BBC
Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities and currently works at Redkite, a childhood cancer charity.