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Updated On: Thursday, 22 February 2018
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Child Soldiers Freed in South Sudan

Content by: South-South News

13 February 2018, New York, USA | South-South News — The United Nations welcomed the release last week of more than 300 child soldiers in Yambio, located in the southwest of South Sudan. The children were released by armed groups and will begin reintegrating into their communities and learning new livelihood skills.

A total of 700 children have been screened and registered for release in phases: 563 from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement and 137 associated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In-Opposition.

Some of the children were snatched from their homes while others joined the military on their own. One former child soldier, Selma Alfred Barakat, said, “Nobody forced me and nobody told me the road, I sat with myself and thought about it. I started looking for the way to meet these people (rebels). I walked for three days and I met (them) in their place when I entered there they asked me what I want and I said I am just here to work.”

The process of registering and screening the children started sometime in October 2017, with the National Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration taking the lead. The process has been supported by various stakeholders including the United Nations and various diplomatic missions based in the country. Claude Akasha, the head of the National Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration program, said, “It’s important to have the children out of the army simply because the best place for the child is in the family. A child below the age of 18 is not supposed to be in the army, is supposed to be educated, so one of the opportunities that a child will get after this is to go to school to prepare his own future, to prepare the future the family, without that then we are destroying the child and destroying the country as well.”

This newest release saw the children symbolically shed off their uniforms, with UNICEF saying they would not rest until all children have been released. “This is the first step. It’s the first step of getting children out of armed groups, it’s the first step of communities starting to heal, it’s the first step of children going back to their homes and living a normal life, and I think it’s as simple as that,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan.

Speaking from Yambio, the Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan - UNMISS - said it is vital that the children receive the support they need to rejoin their communities and that they are welcomed by family and friends without any sense of stigma. “Some of those children wanted to be reunited with their families,” David Shearer, who is also the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, “I met a young woman who just wanted to be a tailor and to be able to sew clothes and sell clothes for a living. These are dreams of people that should have their dreams realized. So today we celebrate the first phase of what will become the largest release of children from armed groups that South Sudan has seen for many years, but it’s just the first step, and unfortunately in other parts of the country, child recruitment continues.”

Asking for support, the country’s First Vice-President said there was a need for funding and good will. Taban Deng Gai, said, “There are individuals who do not value the lives of a child. You cannot condemn a whole nation because of individual mistakes. Let us, but more importantly give us the support so that we release these children to their homes.”

Eighty-seven of the children released are girls with the final total involved in the Yambio project expected to reach 220. Julie Mbiko, a Yambio resident, said, ‘It’s really a joyful day for us today because our young sisters and brothers have been in the bush and today God has made it for u, and we are with them back in the system, back in the lives, so we are going to enjoy, to progress, in everything.”

The project to release the children associated with armed conflict has UNMISS provide peacekeeping troops to escort religious leaders into remote bush areas to make contact and negotiate with the armed groups. UNMISS has also worked closely with other key partners such as UNICEF, state and local authorities as well as community groups.

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