Panyume opposition forces working hard to remove all children from their ranks
“I do not want children to suffer like we do in the bushes. They are our future, and we want to open the gates of success for them by removing them from the army,” said a Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition’s Lieutenant Colonel, Mawa Bosco Oliver, himself a father of six.
He believes that the time is ripe for the opposition to heed the call to end all crimes being committed against children.
“I have learnt that recruiting children, killing, maltreating, raping or using the child to carry a gun, wash clothes or cook is wrong.”
In December 2015, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-iO) was listed in the United Nations Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict as a perpetrator of three of the so called six grave violations committed against children.
Recruiting, using, killing, maiming and abducting boys and girls are the violations for which the opposition group has been listed. Its counterpart on the government side, the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, SSPDF, has been found guilty of committing an additional two crimes targeting children: attacks against schools and places of worship and rape and other forms of sexual violence.
A recent training organized by the Child Protection Unit of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, was very much welcomed by the opposition force at its headquarters in Panyume. A total of 65 junior and senior officers participated in the learning opportunity.
The training shed crucial light on the obligation of any soldier to protect children and to be aware of legal frameworks. It also provided participants with information on what is needed to have its army removed from the list of shame, as perpetrators of violations of the rights of boys and girls.
“You have penetrated my troubled heart with positive messages of peace for our children. My heart has been bleeding for years, but now I feel like a free mother again,” said Betty Juru, a 1st Lieutenant in the opposition ranks and a widowed mother of two.
The female officer has learnt about the detrimental impacts that army life is likely to have on children: no school or parental care, a lack of healthy food and a real risk of suffering psychosocial traumas and limited prospects of becoming productive citizens.
“Our children are getting finished due to the war. The only solution to our suffering is lasting peace. That way people who are in refugee camps and protection sites can return home, we can all move freely again and develop our motherland,” she concluded.
Vicky Waku Driciru, a child protection officer representing the peacekeeping mission, believes that a lack of accountability for perpetrators is to blame for the recurring violations against children by armed actors.
“That is why we [UNMISS] monitor you, collect and collate information, verify and report it for the purposes of advocacy and deterrence,” Ms. Driciru said.
She also offered a strong incentive for armed groups to make all efforts to clean up their acts.
“It will pave the way for your forces to participate in peacekeeping operations anywhere on earth and can give you military training opportunities provided by professionals from around the globe.”