JUBA, 26 FEBRUARY 2020 – Today, 15 children associated with armed forces and armed groups were released in South Sudan, UNICEF said. The boys ranging from 16 to 18 years of age were taken as prisoners of war during clashes in the northern parts of the country in 2019. Today marked the end of their imprisonment, their time in an armed group and the start of a new life.
The release, which is supported by UNICEF, the UN Mission to South Sudan and the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, is happening just over two weeks after an Action Plan to end and prevent all grave violations against children was signed by the Government of South Sudan. The Action Plan is the first of its kind and the most comprehensive plan signed by parties since the creation of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate.
“With the establishment of a new unity government in South Sudan and hopefully prolonged peace, we have a golden opportunity to ensure there are no children left in the barracks,” said UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan Dr Mohamed Ag Ayoya. “Today’s release shows commitment to the signed action plan and I urge commanders across the country to release all children as soon as possible.”
The children released today will be taken to an interim care centre where they will receive psychosocial support and their most immediate needs will be addressed. While their families are being traced, an assessment of the children’s long- term needs and individual plans for reintegration back to their communities are made.
The children will be reunited with their immediate family as soon as UNICEF and partners are able to locate them. Where families are not found, foster families are arranged while the search for their family continues. Furthermore, the children are enrolled in a three-year-long reintegration programme where a dedicated social worker will guide them through the long and often complicated way back to a civilian life.
“There are no shortcuts in reintegration if we are serious about preventing reenrolment and ensuring a new direction in life,” said Ayoya. “Yet our well-established reintegration programme is critically underfunded and in danger of being closed down unless new funding becomes available. Now is a critical time in the history of South Sudan and I urge our donors to step forward and support these children.”
For 2020, UNICEF has appealed for US $4.2 million to support the release of some 2,100 children associated with armed forces and armed groups and the continuation of the reintegration programme for formerly and newly released children in South Sudan.