In Kapoeta, South Sudanese uniformed personnel pledge to uphold child rights

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After being deployed to South Sudan's shared border with Kenya for 16 years, 50 SSPDF personnel receive their first-ever training on protecting children in armed conflict, thanks to UNMISS and state authorities. Photo by Moses Yakudu/UNMISS

8 May 2024

In Kapoeta, South Sudanese uniformed personnel pledge to uphold child rights

Moses Yakudu

EASTERN EQUATORIA – “Since I joined the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF), I have never received any training. Whatever I learnt was through trial and error,” revealed Adut John, a female officer deployed with the SSPDF to South Sudan’s shared border with Kenya on the edges of Eastern Equatoria state.

Adut was speaking on the margins of the first capacity building initiative aimed at benefiting SSPDF personnel stationed at Narus and Nadapal in Kapoeta East county.

The focus of the training: Raising awareness on the Comprehensive Action Plan to prevent and end the six grave violations against children.

The two-day activity, which was supported by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), through its Child Protection Unit, in partnership with the state Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and the Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration Commission (SDDRC), was attended by 49 men and one woman in uniform.

They have been soldiers for 16 years and this was the first time they have been part of in-depth discussions on child rights, the role of uniformed personnel in protecting children during armed conflict and human rights standards.

Some senior officers who participated in the workshop called for more such sessions.

 “It’s vital for us as uniformed personnel to adhere to human rights standards, especially when it comes to child protection, as we go about our daily work. We have gained a lot from this workshop and hope that we receive more regular trainings in future,” said Colonel William Garang Achuiel, commander of the SSPDF in Kapoeta East.

The  six grave violations consist of the recruitment and use of children, killing and maiming, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, abductions, and the denial of humanitarian access to children in need.

The long-term objective when it comes to such advocacy is to protect and prevent the occurrence of grave violations against children perpetrated by armed forces and groups. This would ensure that South Sudanese armed groups will, finally, be removed from what is known as the list of shame. The list being referred to is part of the UN Secretary-General’s report on the situation of children in armed conflict and contains national armies and other military groups known to violate one or more of the six grave violations.

“We have taken you through the process of how a country get listed and de-listed. It is your collective responsibility to ensure that such egregious offences are prevented,” said Priscila Ong Ayo Okaalo, a Child Protection Officer with the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Field Office in Eastern Equatoria, at the conclusion of the event.

Her views were echoed by Francis Ojok who was representing the state DDRC.

“I want to assure all of you that with partners like UNMISS supporting us, we are well on our way to making sure no child will ever be associated with armed conflict again. Children are the future of South Sudan and all of us must commit to making sure they are protected,” stated Mr Ojok.

UNMISS continues to support forces who are parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement to implement the Comprehensive Action Plan signed in 2020.