Children of South Sudan deserve stronger protection from impact of war
Frowning with concentration, the teenagers methodically pick apart seams and carefully slice up fabric as they learn how to make dresses and shirts.
Their feet move rhythmically on the foot pedals of the old Singer sewing machines as the sweat pours off them in the midday heat at the Yambio Vocational Training Centre.
These new skills are vital to their future – and a world away from their previous lives as child soldiers fighting in the remote bush areas of South Sudan.
Many of them were forcibly recruited, while others had no choice but to join armed groups because they had lost their family in the civil war and had to find a way to survive on their own.
They are among hundreds released by armed groups this year, after interventions by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and UNICEF to help them recapture their youth and seize the opportunity to reach their full potential.
They shared their experience with the United Nation’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, who is visiting South Sudan to advocate for stronger protection for children.
“I have heard loud and clear that there are many orphans and children that don’t have anywhere to belong because either they are alone, they are unaccompanied, or they are orphans,” said the SRSG. “There is a lot of concern that we need to start undertaking discussions with the villages – and the social fabric of South Sudan – so that these children will also find a spot, will not be stigmatized and will be given the same rights as every child to its own future.”
The SRSG met with local authorities in Yambio to discuss the need for more sustained and comprehensive reintegration programmes, including education, training and psycho-social support for the children.
The local governor says the community is strongly committed to preventing the recruitment of child soldiers, empowering children and ensuring their rights are respected.
“We want to tell the world today that South Sudan’s news is not all bad news, the way people see it internationally,” said Gbudwe Governor, Daniel Badagbu. “There is hope in this country, there is something we can start to empower, we can start to work with, so that it can be replicated in the entire country and send a good message to the entire country. We are working for peacebuilding and we are working to transform the people of Gbudwe from the culture of war to the culture of peace, development and unity in diversity.”
The SRSG shared her concerns at the continuing grave violations against children across South Sudan. There have been more than 11,000 verified incidents in the past four years, including sexual violence, abductions, killings and maimings, and many other incidents that go unreported because of access restrictions to remote communities.
“We are exceptionally preoccupied at the continuing level of violence against children,” she said. “We know the only ultimate way to stop it is through peace. We are really hoping that the peace agreement works. We have put a formal request that any peace agreement includes a large part on how to deal with children in the post-conflict moment and what should be put in place for those children to recover them.”
The SRSG is working with the Government to develop a new comprehensive Action Plan to end violations against children – the first of its kind to be signed between a party to conflict and the UN - in the hope of giving the next generation of South Sudan a future to look forward to.