Children demobilized from SPLA in Bentiu
15 November 2011 – Some 53 child soldiers between the ages of 13 and 17 were released from the South Sudanese military today in the Unity State capital of Bentiu.
The children had been forcefully conscripted into the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) by local chiefs at the request of the state government in April. They were demobilized from SPLA headquarters in Bentiu by the South Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration Commission (SSDDRC).
"I was taken by force from my family by the chief," recalled 17-year-old Galuak Nhail Riak. "I was taken against my own wish. I did not join the army."
Hailing from Unity's Panyijar County, as do most of the children, Galuak is happy to return home, where he said he would go back to school.
UNMISS Child Protection Unit, along with the SSDDRC, UNICEF and the South Sudanese Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare had been advocating for the children's release since they were enlisted in April, according to the mission's senior protection officer, Hazel de Wet.
"We see this as significant positive development and commend the SPLA for this action," Ms. De Wet said. "However, we still call upon the SPLA to ensure that all children within their ranks are released. Children should be in schools and not military barracks."
There were areas under direct SPLA command that UNMISS Child Protection, SSDRC and UNICEF had been unable to access over the past several months due to increased insecurity, poor road conditions and landmines, she added.
Unity State SSDDRC Coordinator George Gatloy Koang said the SPLA, recognizing that the boys were too young to carry guns, began the demobilization initiative two months ago. Since then, the commission has been tracing the children's families in coordination with partners like UNICEF.
"Our mandate is to remove these children from the army barracks," Mr. Koang said. "Then our counterparts will come in to support the children to re-integrate into the family setup."
UNICEF had given the boys non-food items like blankets, mosquito nets, plastic sheets, soap, and bucket, the DDR coordinator said. The non-governmental organization (NGO) Veterinaires Sans Frontieres would provide live animals like goats for the children to rear as their own.
The children's families had been informed of their return and were waiting at a centre in Bentiu. From there they would be transported to their respective counties.