SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict Urges South Sudanese Communities to Empower Youth on the Path to Peace
South Sudan is the world’s newest nation. Its 12 million population are also amongst the youngest in the world with half aged under 18.
Children often suffer most from the ongoing conflict, with many maimed or killed, suffering from sexual violence or being forcibly recruited into armed groups.
During a week-long visit to South Sudan, the United Nation’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, met many children and young people to hear how the violence has affected them.
“I have never lived in a country where there is so much potential and so much energy and so much youth,” she said. “It is particularly worrying to me to think that we are asking so much of these youth. Not only are we asking the youth that have been victims to recover, to make peace, to integrate back and try to survive where they live, but we are asking other youth to help them. And both need help because youth don’t have experience and you need that. This is a country where youth must help youth.”
Speaking at a press conference in the capital Juba, the SRSG said there were 1400 verified incidents of grave violations against children in 2017 although many more cases go unreported because of access restrictions. She urged communities across the country to accept the child soldiers back into their communities.
“I think there is so much potential here. The children who are traumatized - all they need is approval from the communities to be accepted,” she said. “I am worried in South Sudan because I think there are some resentments - some issues perhaps at village level. There has to be a decision at village level that children should be welcomed and that they really belong to the community. They should not be seen as pariahs or stigmatized for their experience.”
The SRSG met with Government authorities in the capital Juba as well as in Yambio in the south of the country where hundreds of former child soldiers have been released and are undertaking vocational training as part of a reintegration programme.
She advocated with authorities for the integration of child protection provisions in any future peace agreement and encouraged the criminalization of all grave violations against children in the review of the penal code, the full implementation of the Child Act and the swift signature into law of the Civil Registry Act.
Her child protection team is also committed to working with the Government to develop a comprehensive Action Plan covering all six grave violations and to providing technical assistance to help implement it.
“I am expecting of the Government to be fully accountable and fully responsible. They understand that they are the biggest agent of change in South Sudan, and that you have to lead by example. If they do, they will see the potential of youth in peace at community level. If that happens South Sudan could become a light for the rest of the world.”