The UN family and partners pool in efforts to release six child soldiers
WESTERN EQUATORIA - Recruitment of children by armed forces is one of the six grave violations of child rights and international humanitarian law.
With its history of protracted civil war, child protection is a priority for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and an integral part of its mandate to protect civilians in this young nation.
But a recent success story in Maridi, Western Equatoria, has communities and national as well as international partners jubilating.
Thanks to strong partnerships between the UN Peacekeeping mission, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the South Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (SDDRC) and World Vision International, last week six child soldiers were disarmed and demobilized at the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) Division 6 headquarters in Maridi.
“Young people have no business picking up guns,” stated Sarah Bennet Gugu, a women's representative from the county, emphatically.
“Years of war, however, have decimated our educational infrastructure. In the absence of learning institutions, it’s easy for young children to be swayed by armed elements. I hope this happy occasion will also send a message to our leaders to focus and improve Western Equatoria’s education sector. This is the most effective way to protect children,” she added.
South Sudan has ratified key international treaties to make sure children here are safe and secure.
“Implementing laws fully, specifically key provisions of the 2009 Action Plan renewed in 2012, banning recruitment and use of minors in military, remains the sole way to address this matter,” explained Mure Moses, a UNICEF Child Protection Officer.
For their part, South Sudanese uniformed representatives stood firm in their commitment to eradicate the use of children in their ranks.
“Officers enlisting members below 18 years must be punished. The government is putting in place rules that will, when followed to the letter, end these breaches once and for all,” stated Major General Chaplain Edward, Head of the SSPDF’s Child Protection Unit.
Brigadier General Michael Odongtoo, Director of Child Protection, Office of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA – IO), agreed.
“A professional army should include only adults. We are honour-bound to help educate our younger so that they can build successful futures for themselves,” he said.
Patricia Njeri Njoroge, Acting Head of the UNMISS Child Protection Section, re-emphasized that the UN will continue to advocate on behalf of underage combatants.
“This is a significant milestone in our collective efforts to protect those vulnerable among us and the United Nations shall always extend its full support to the government in this regard,” she averred.
The formal process was presided over by Maridi County Commissioner, Miri Alfred and the Chairperson of the SDDRC, Ayuen Alier Jongroor.