More than 100 children were released by two armed groups in South Sudan on Tuesday, bringing the total number released this year to over 900.
This was the fourth release ceremony in 2018 and like two previous events, it took place in the town of Yambio in the south of the country. Additional releases are expected in the coming months.
“The progress made this year gives us reason to hope that one day all of the 19,000 children still serving in the ranks of armed groups and armed forces will be able to return to their families,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan.
“Until that goal is achieved, the work to end the use and recruitment of must children continue.”
During the ceremony, the children were formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes. Medical screenings will now be carried out, and the children will receive counseling and psychosocial support as part of the reintegration programme, which is implemented by UNICEF and partners.
When the children return to their homes, their families will be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance by the World Food Programme to support their initial reintegration. The children will also be provided with vocational training aimed at improving household income and food security. Being unable to support themselves economically can be a key factor in children becoming associated with armed groups. In addition to services related to livelihoods, UNICEF and partners will ensure the released children have access to psychosocial support, age-specific education services in schools and accelerated learning centers.
“These releases are a joint effort between UNICEF, UNMISS and government partners. Negotiations with the parties to the conflict require considerable energy and commitment from all involved,” said Mdoe.
“I am very grateful to our partners and our government counterparts for their efforts on behalf of the children of South Sudan.”
The majority of the 128 (90 boys; 38 girls) children released were from the ranks of the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM) – which in 2016 signed a peace agreement with the government and is now integrating its ranks into the national army – while a small number were released from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO).
Adequate funding for UNICEF’s release programme is also essential. UNICEF South Sudan requires US$45 million to support release, demobilization and reintegration of 19,000 children over the next three years.