60 military officers from South Sudan trained on child rights in Central Equatoria
More than 60 South Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in Opposition (SPLA-iO) soldiers attended a two-day workshop organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Wunaliet cantonment site in Central Equatoria.
The main aim of the workshop: to educate participants on the six grave violations against children. These include killing and maiming of children; recruitment or use of children in armed forces and armed groups; attacks on schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual abuse; abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access for children. As commanders of troops, it is the responsibility of each participant to ensure that forces under their command uphold the need to protect all children.
Margret Andira, a participant, outlined the challenges that in the past have forced children into becoming underage combatants. “During the civil war, many children were separated from their parents and had no recourse to funds for survival. This led some of them to pick up arms. It is a different time now in South Sudan and we must do everything within our power to protect our children,” she averred.
Meanwhile, Justin Joseph Kiri said he believed that no child under the age of 18 should be abused or recruited into armed conflict.
“A child should go to school so that she or he can grow up to be a responsible citizen. They are the future of our nation,” he emphasized.
For his part, Vicky Waku, a Child Protection Officer with the UN Peacekeeping mission explained the importance of the workshop to participants.
“It is very important for all of you to be educated about child rights and understand that recruiting children is a crime. If you all pledge to protect every child, you will be taking one of the most important steps to forging a durable peace across South Sudan,” he stated.
Benjamin Ade, a South Sudanese military commander revealed that he and forces under his command have established a learning center for children in the area and use their own funds to promote education.
“We have established a primary school for community members where we are stationed. This school has been operational for the past two years and we buy stationery and school supplies with our own money,” he revealed. “Our aim is to encourage children to continue their education and eschew underage recruitment. We also share the food rations we receive from Juba with these children.”
The young nation has made some progress in ensuring all children are protected from armed conflict, by adopting the Comprehensive Action Plan to stamp out violations of the rights of these children.
But much remains to be done.