Uniformed personnel in Eastern Equatoria vow to end all violations of child rights

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With moving testimonies of their own experiences as former underage combatants and concrete courses of action, 50 South Sudanese uniformed personnel and allied interlocuters pledge to uphold child rights at an UNMISS workshop in Eastern Equatoria. Photo by Moses Yakudu/UNMISS

26 Feb 2024

Uniformed personnel in Eastern Equatoria vow to end all violations of child rights

Moses Yakudu

EASTERN EQUATORIA – As South Sudan races against the clock to hold its first post-independence elections, there’s growing awareness that this young nation’s path to durable peace and prosperity requires systemic changes.

One such vital transformation is upholding child rights.

In Eastern Equatoria, some 30 members of the State Technical Committee on Child Protection—drawn from the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF); the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-iO); the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) and National Police Service; and relevant state government ministries—recently attended a training in this regard facilitated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The sessions focused on the Comprehensive Action Plan, signed in February 2020, to prevent and end the six grave violations against children.

These 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.

“Many nations who were once in the throes of civil war have demonstrated to us that it is possible to end all harm to children. It is our turn now and we can begin by making sure all soldiers under our command embrace the Action Plan fully,” stated Peter Andrew, a member of Area Joint Military Ceasefire Committee representing all armed forces.

Participants agreed upon a list of priority tasks with clear courses of action to end recruitment of minors within their ranks.

Additionally, they resolved to meet regularly to evaluate progress made in implementing the Action Plan; increase coordination with interlocuters at the national level; and, vitally, develop messages for grassroots awareness.

“As a police trainer, my first step will be to ensure new cadets are enrolled in line with internationally accepted standards,” said Sabina Dodos Kamal, a Warrant Officer in the SSNPS’ Department of Recruitment and Training.

“A child’s place is in school and not within any armed group. If we have anyone underage in our armed forces, they must be freed and reintegrated into society,” said Mama Debora, a traditional leader and women’s representative from Torit.

In candid, moving moments, some participants shared their own experience of being associated with armed conflict as underage combatants.

 “Bullets remain in my thighs. I have been operated several times, but they have proved impossible to remove. My own physical scars and trauma are enough for me to say that I never want to witness any child being maimed or killed when violence erupts,” shared Amony Mary Leonardo, a former child soldier who was representing the judiciary.

This two-day training of trainers was organized by the UN Peacekeeping mission in partnership with the Eastern Equatoria’s Technical Committee on Child Protection and the state Ministry of Gender.

The most simple but eloquent endorsement for such initiatives came from Mary Ohide Ikwak, a representative of the state’s secretariat.

“It’s not too late for us correct mistakes we have made in the past and restore South Sudan’s international friendships,” she stated.

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.

Two similar workshops have also been held in Ikotos.