Over 3,100 child soldiers released in South Sudan: UN

JUBA, FEB 12 — More than 3,100 child soldiers have been released by armed groups in South Sudan since the East African country descended into conflict five years ago, the UN children’s agency said Tuesday.
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement that 119 children were released by the South Sudan National Liberation Movement in the southwestern town of Yambio on Tuesday, bringing the total number of those freed since the conflict began in late 2013 to more than 3,100.
Forty-eight girls were among the group, with the youngest child being 10-years-old, the agency added.
The release coincided with the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, a UN designated event on February 12 each year.
“Every child no longer with an armed group represents a childhood restored and a future regained,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore was quoted in the statement as saying.
“More and more children are being freed from armed groups and armed forces in South Sudan, and while this is an encouraging development, there is a long way to go before all of the more than 19,000 children still in their ranks are returned to their families,” the statement added.
According to UNICEF, since February 2018, more than 1,000 children have been released by various armed groups, but thousands more continue to be used.
South Sudan descended into civil war in late 2013, and the conflict has created one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world.
Despite making several pledges to end the use of children in their ranks, armed groups in South Sudan have been accused of continued recruitment of children to be used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers and spies, or for sexual exploitation.
Some 19,000 children are thought to be in the hands of armed groups, according to UNICEF.
The UN children’s agency called on all armed actors in the conflict to end the recruitment of children, release those in their ranks and ensure efforts to curb further recruitment.
“This year marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which requires governments to meet the basic needs of children and to help them reach their full potential,” said Fore.
“Five months after the signing of a peace agreement, UNICEF calls on all parties to South Sudan’s conflict to recommit themselves to upholding these rights and to ensuring that children are never soldiers.” – XINHUA