Children rights groups have called on South Sudan army forces to end recruitment of children into their ranks.
Last week, the Dallaire Institute for Children Peace and Security conveyed a high level roundtable discussion on the Implementation of the Comprehensive Action Plan to End and Prevent All Six Grave Violation against Children, signed by the Government of South Sudan in 2020.
In June this year, the agency held a similar meeting with army commanders from the SSPDF, SPLA IO and SSOA on prevention of recruitment and use of children in the armed forces in the country.
As part of effective implementation of the action plan signed in February 2020, the SSPDF says it has established three high level committees at both national and state level to ensure that children do not associate with their forces.
Brig. General Angelos Dhal, the deputy Director of SSPDF Child Protection told Eye Radio that preventing children from associating with armed forces requires a joint effort by the government and citizens.
“We want to make sure our children instead of joining the army or the police or any other organized forces or even the opposition, we want to create a safe environment for them to go to school,” Dhal said.
The high level roundtable discussion on the implementation of the Comprehensive Action Plan to end and prevent grave violation against children in South Sudan comes just a week after a report suggesting that 18 children were recently associated with the SSPDF in Lakes State.
The children are believed to have come from Lakes, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Warrap states.
But in July this year, the head of SSPDF Child Protection Maj. Gen. Chaplain Khamis Edward told Eye Radio that the number of children associated with armed forces in the country has reduced.
Betty Sunday, the Executive Director of Women Action and for Society says South Sudan is yet to take concrete measures to end grave violations against children.
“We want to see things in action because action speaks louder and we have been hearing the same scenario that we are going to do this and things are not being implemented,” she explained.
But Dhal insisted that they are working closely with partners to ensure that children do not associate with armed groups in the country.
He added that they are now investigating the latest allegation suggesting that 18 children have been associated with SSPDF at Panda Barracks in Rumbek.
In 2019, the UN children’s agency – UNICEF said there were about 19,000 children associated with armed groups in South Sudan.
Between 2014 and 2018 about 4,000 children were released and reunited with their families, mainly in the former Buma, Gbudue and Unity states.
However, the South Sudan government – with support from partners in February last year signed a comprehensive action plan to end and prevent all grave violations against children in the country.
This include, recruitment and use of child soldiers, killing and maiming, sexual violence and rape.
Others include, attack on school and hospital, abduction and denial of humanitarian access among others.
John Kon Kelei, Country Representative of the Dallaire Institute urged the stakeholders to ensure children are protected.
“All the guests have a critical role to play in the prevention of the recruitment and use of girls and boys as soldiers,” Judith said.
“The Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security is an international organization working on the prevention and use of children as soldiers using Child’s Rights Upfront and gender responsive approaches.”
Among others, the 2018 revitalized peace agreement, the transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan as amended, the Child Act of 2008, the South Sudan National Police Service Act and the SSPDF Act prohibits unlawful acts against children in the country.
Brigadier James Dak Karlo, the deputy spokesperson of South Sudan national police service says they are working with other law enforcement agencies to ensure they too adhere to the regulations.
“We have made an undertaking that whoever recruits or who ever finds recruiting children under the age of 18 or forcing children to join the armed forces have to be held accountable and should face the law,” James Dak said.
South Sudan is yet to ratify other international legal frameworks that prohibits unlawful use of children in committing crimes.
These treaties include the African charter, the Paris principles and also the Vancouver principles.
Oluku Andrew Halt, the National Coordinator for the Release and Reintegration of Children at the DDR Commission believes that conflict and economic meltdown are likely the contributing factors that force children to associate with armed groups.
“There are many reasons why they leave their families. Could be tribal conflict, could be because of the war that just ended as they displaced them and they are looking for a better environment,” Andrew said.
Andrew added: “At the moment, we don’t have in our record that there is this number of children.”
In the past few years, many children have been roaming on the streets of major towns in the country begging because of the economic meltdowns.
Previously, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, says hunger –fueled by a protracted civil war and a failed economy –has pushed children into labor or life on the streets in different parts of South Sudan.
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