SPLA must account for children in its ranks, UNMISS official says

11 Oct 2013

SPLA must account for children in its ranks, UNMISS official says

11 October 2013 - The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) should distance itself from recruiting and hosting children within the army and call violators to account, UNMISS Child Protection Officer Jane Juan said today at an SPLA workshop in Juba.

The call referred to an order by Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) Chief of General Staff James Hoth Mai on 14 August to report all children in the army within a month and a half (by 30 September).

The document urged all SPLA to assume full responsibility for violations to children’s rights, including intended and unintended recruitment of children, occupation of schools, sexual exploitation and abuse, and killing as well as maiming, Ms. Juan said.

She was speaking at the closing of the three-day workshop, which aimed to inform the SPLA about accountability for recruiting and using children in the army, and how it could be de-listed from the UN Secretary-General's report listing the SPLA as an army that still has child soldiers.

“Some SPLA officers deny that children exist in their ranks,” said SPLA Child Protection Unit head in Juba Brigadier General Chaplain Khamis Edward.

Denying the truth would not help remove the SPLA from the Secretary-General’s blacklist of countries supporting recruitment of child soldiers, he said.

Brig. Gen. Edward added that the SPLA as an army was committed to cleaning its name by ensuring that no child was left within the ranks. “I am urging all the division commanders to understand that the time has come for all of us to account.”

SPLA Lieutenant Peter Lasu noted that the high illiteracy rate among senior army officers was a key impediment to fuller realization of a child-free SPLA.

He said some illiterate SPLA officers considered improvements in the system a challenge to their management, as they could not read and interpret polices needed for effective reform.

UNMISS Child Protection Officer Monica Michelle Kemanzi told participants that the SPLA should stand against soldiers who recruited or held children by either removing or demoting them.

“If the SPLA can remove or demote or arrest and try their members who have been accused of child rights violations, they can send a positive signal to the international community,” Ms. Kemanzi said.

Brig. Gen. Chaplain noted that about 1,043 SPLA Child Protection Officers from all military installations countrywide had been trained to identify and report children in the army.

Major topics of the workshop included child rights, a child’s best interest, the legal framework for grave child rights violations, and punitive orders.