'We want to be a delisted, professional army' – SSPDF
“We want to be a delisted, professional army that protects children. Children are our future. So, they really need to be protected.”
Those were the words of the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) Deputy Commander of Special Forces, Major General Deng Kuir, at the closing of a two-day awareness-raising training for his military outfit, organized forces and local authorities in Jebel Boma over the weekend.
Organised by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Child Protection Unit, the two-day training, which brought together some 50 senior officials from the military, sought to support the implementation of an undertaking between the armed forces and the UN to cease grave violations against children in armed conflict.
Similar trainings have been conducted in opposition-controlled areas.
“We need to be educated about protection of children,” underscored Major General Deng Kuir, who commended UNIMSS Child Protection Unit for continued engagement and support in training forces, including distributing related documents like the SSPDF code of conduct.
He said SSPDF, which is among the armies listed by the United Nations Secretary-General for use of children in armed forces, had no children associated with its forces in the area.
Alfred Orono Orono, UNMISS Chief of Child Protection expressed his acknowledgement of this report.
“We learned that the soldiers are willing to do anything necessary to protect children in their forces. They have told us that they are not going to permit children in their ranks. They are not going to attack schools and hospitals. They are not going to rape children and, or adults, and they want to be delisted from the Secretary-General’s list of armies using children,” he said.
The workshop discussed the impact of conflict on children and the six grave violations, which include killing and maiming of children; recruiting or using children as soldiers, sexual violence against children, abduction, attacks against schools or hospitals, and denying humanitarian access to children in need. It also discussed the need to professionalize the army in order to be delisted.
Two child-protection focal persons were named in Jebel Buma to coordinate all issues related to children.
The Country Task Force on Children and Armed Conflict, led by UNICEF – the UN children’s agency – and UNMISS, works with parties in implementing Action Plans to stop grave violations against children.
UNMISS Head of Field Office in Greater Jonglei, Deborah Schein, reaffirmed the importance of such training in professionalizing the army, and for effective implementation of the action plan.
She said protection of children will eventually support delisting of SSPDF from the Secretary-General’s list of the parties committing grave violations.
“What is important here is that you understand your role as protectors of your people – and they look up to you and respect you. You need to ensure that your children are safe, and not part of the conflict, supporting the forces, or engaged in conflict in anyway,” said Ms. Schein.
The Commissioner of Jebel Boma County, Alston Longon, appreciated UNMISS for organizing the first training for SSPDF, and urged continued organizing of similar trainings for forces in Raat and Maruwa.
The International Labour Organization’s convention and other national laws describe the use of children in armed conflict as the worst form of child labour, a violation of human rights, and a war crime.
In South Sudan efforts are being made to rid the armed forces of children, with the goal of being struck off the list of violators. Since February 2018, more than 1,000 children have been released by various armed groups, including over 200 demobilized from the ranks and files of the armed forces in Pibor, and more than 400 in Yambio.