In South Sudan, 311 child soldiers have been released by armed groups, the United Nations mission in the country said Wednesday.
The group including 87 girls marks the first phase of a program at Yambio, in the southwest part of the country, to secure the release of more than 700 such children and return them to their communities. There are 563 from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM) and 137 associated with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In-Opposition (SPLA-IO) screened and registered for release.
At a formal ceremony, the children were disarmed and were provided with civilian clothes as well as medical screenings, the UN said. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and local partners will provide them with counseling as part of their reintegration program. Those with identified families will go home, while those without immediate reunification plans will go to interim care during the search for loved ones. They also will received food assistance, vocational training and age-specific services in schools.
“Children should not be carrying guns and killing each other. They should be playing, learning, having fun with friends, protected and cherished by the adults around them,” said David Shearer, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS.
“They will have endured suffering, including sexual abuse. It is vital that they receive the support they need to re-join their communities and that they are welcomed home by family and friends without any sense of stigma.”
Some 19,000 children continue to be used by armed forces and groups more than four years after conflict erupted in December 2013, the UN said in a statement. Release efforts are complicated by fighting, and peacekeeping troops have played a key role in escorting religious leaders to help negotiate with the armed fighters.