UNICEF and partners have secured the release of approximately 3,000 children from an armed group in South Sudan – one of the largest ever demobilizations of children. The first group of 280 children were released today, at the village of Gumuruk in Jonglei State, eastern South Sudan. Further phased releases of the other children will occur over the coming month.
Recruited by the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction led by David Yau Yau, the children range in age from eleven to 17 years old. Some have been fighting for up to four years and many have never attended school. In the last year, 12,000 children, mostly boys, have been recruited and used as soldiers by armed forces and groups in South Sudan as a whole.
The children surrendered their weapons and uniforms in a ceremony overseen by the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, and the Cobra Faction and supported by UNICEF.
“These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience,” said UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch. “The release of thousands of children requires a massive response to provide the support and protection these children need to begin rebuilding their lives.”
The children released from the Cobra Faction are being supported with basic health care and protection services and necessities such as food, water and clothing to help them get ready to return to their families. Counselling and other psychological support programmes are urgently being established. The children will soon have access to education and skills training programmes.
UNICEF is working to trace and reunify the children with their families, a daunting task in a country where more than 1 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, coordinated response to meet their immediate and long-term needs. These programmes require significant resources,” said Veitch.
UNICEF estimates the costs for the release and reintegration of each child is approximately $2,330 for 24 months. So far UNICEF has received EUR 1.6 million from the IKEA Foundation – a first and critical contribution to funding for the release and reintegration programme – and is appealing for an additional $10 million in support. Other donors include the EU and the German and United Kingdom National Committees for UNICEF.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org
Photo top: Child soldier holding gun in Gumuruk ©UNICEF/South Sudan/2015/Marinetta Peru