Demobilized child soldiers return home

1 Nov 2011

Demobilized child soldiers return home

28 October 2011 – The first batch of demobilized children who had served in South Sudanese rebel militia groups were airlifted today from Western Bahr El-Ghazal to Unity State to reunite with their families.

The 20 children were screened and demobilized by the South Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (SSDDRC) in Mapel, 85 kilometres from the Western Bahr El-Ghazal capital Wau.

UNMISS Child Protection Officer David Kibiriti said the children came from Warrap, Northern Bahr El-Ghazal, Upper Nile and Unity states.

The young people had served in the forces of two militia group leaders -- the late Gatluak Gai and Peter Gadet – who accepted an amnesty in July and August, respectively, granted by President Salva Kiir during the 9 July South Sudan Independence Day celebration.

William Deng, 14, said he had been a child soldier for one year, but was now ready to go back to school. "I joined the armed group because I wanted to support myself and my family," he explained.

Col. Guet Koang, who served as an Administrative Officer in Peter Gadet's force, said the children had joined the armed group voluntarily, but that it was now time for them to return home and resume their schooling.

"It was a problem of poverty in the villages ... (and) the political situation that forced these children to join the (force)," he said.

Col. Koang said his militia had accepted peace and acknowledged efforts of the government and nongovernmental organizations to bring peace and development to South Sudan, adding that they would support the DDR process.

A key element of the UNMISS mandate is to support the Government of South Sudan to develop and implement a national DDR strategy, with particular attention to special needs of women and child combatants.

The UNMISS Child Protection Office has been working closely with the SSDDRC and UNICEF to verify, register and reunite child soldiers with their families.