More Than 900 Children Released From Armed Groups This Year

Some 128 (90 Boys; 38 Girls) children will be released by armed groups in South Sudan on Tuesday. This will be the fourth release of children in a series, supported by UNICEF, that will see over 900 children released from the ranks of armed group in 2018.

YAMBIO, 08 August 2018 [Gurtong]-The children will be released from the ranks of the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO). An upsurge of fighting in July 2016 stalled the original plans to release children, but political and security conditions in the last few months have allowed for these planned releases to go ahead.

 Despite this progress, there are still around 19,000 children serving in the ranks of armed forces and groups in South Sudan, more than four years after the outbreak of conflict. So long as the recruitment and use of children by armed groups continues, these groups fail on their commitment to uphold the rights of children under international law.

About the Release Ceremony

During the ceremony on 7 August, the children will be formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes. Medical screenings will be carried out, and children will receive counselling and psychosocial support as part of the reintegration programme, which is implemented by UNICEF and partners.

When the children return to their homes, their families will be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance to support their initial reintegration. The children will also be provided with vocational training aimed at improving household income and food security. Being unable to support themselves economically can be a key factor in children becoming associated with armed groups. In addition to services related to livelihoods, UNICEF and partners will ensure the released children have access to age-specific education services in schools and accelerated learning centres.

Call to Action:

UNICEF urges all parties to the conflict to end the recruitment of children and to release children in their ranks.

UNICEF continues to be dedicated to supporting those children who have been released to resume healthy physical, mental, social and emotional development. Adequate funding for UNICEF’s release programme is essential. UNICEF South Sudan requires US$45 million to support release, demobilization and reintegration of 19,000 children over the next three years.

Background: Yambio release

In April 2016, the Government of South Sudan and the armed group, South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM), signed a peace agreement, outlining a plan in which SSNLM forces would be integrated into SPLA and government forces. Following the signed peace agreement, a large portion of the SSNLM lived in designated cantonment site in Yambio, Western Equatoria, while others returned to their communities, waiting for integration.

UNICEF, in collaboration with the National DDR Commission and UNMISS, performed high level advocacy with the SPLA and SSNLM to develop a strategy, and gain support from all parties to secure the safe release and reintegration of all children associated with the armed groups prior to integration.

 As a result of renewed fighting in July 2016, and the spread of violence across the Equatorias, advocacy efforts stalled and little progress was made until October 2017 in securing cooperation from parties to the conflict to release children. Following continued advocacy at both the national and state levels, UNICEF, UNMISS, and the National DDR Commission engaged leaders from the SSNLM, SPLA, and SPLA-IO, and secured a commitment from the SSNLM and the SPLA-IO (Taban Deng) to release children associated with their armed groups in Yambio and its surrounding areas. Following verification and assessment, an approximate caseload of 1,000 children were identified, verified, and registered by the National DDR Commission for release.

 Due to the high volume of children requiring reintegration programming, it was decided that children would be released in four phases, to prevent social service systems from being overwhelmed.

On 7 February 2018, the National DDR Commission, with the support of UNICEF and UNMISS, officially released a total of 348 children (248 boys; 100 girls).  Of the 348 children, 242 children (169 boys; 73 girls) were associated with the SSNLM, and 106 children (79 boys; 27 girls) were associated with the SPLA-IO.

On 17 April 2018, an additional 248 children (137 boys; 111 girls) were release in Bakiwiri, Gbudue State.  242 children (133 boys; 109 girls) were released from the former SSNLM, and 6 children (4 boys; 2 girls) were released from the SPLA-IO. The release exercise targeted children in the areas of Bakiwiri, Bureangburu, Birisi, Bagari, Mdubara, Munkongo, Monguri, Yubu, Bawoo, and Magida.

On 17 May 2018, 210 children (207 boys; 3 girls) were released in Pibor. This includes 202 children associated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) and eight children associated with the National Salvation Front (NSF).

Halting the recruitment of children to armed forces and groups and releasing the children currently within their ranks would be in line with national commitments made in the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) , in August 2015 and the more recent Cessation of Hostilities , signed in December 2017. It will also be line with obligations under international law.

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