Sand has been piled up. Gravel is on the ready. A water tank is full. Some building blocks have been stacked up to one side, while others are being laid orderly, one on top of the other and smoothened with plaster.
A handful of builders are hard at work and at a construction site in the heart of South Sudan’s People’s Defence Forces Headquarters. They have started early and are working on timelines. Their work has to be done and dusted in three months.
Until then, the sounds of hammering will continue, and wheelbarrows will also ply around the construction site, carrying a mix of gravel and sand from one point to the other.
The ensuing construction is hard-wall building which will house the new location of a much-needed Child Protection Office. Once complete, there will be four offices, one meeting room, a reception area and a veranda.
“Each stone here emphasizes the kind of unity that we [have] with the SSPDF,” says the Head of Child Protection at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Alfred Orono-Orono, who has been working in partnership with the SSPDF to ensure that armed groups in the country rid their ranks of child soldiers.
“Each nail that goes here is a nail into the coffin of the death of issues of violations [against] children of South Sudan,” continues Orono-Orono.
Under a Quick Impact Project, which allows for UNMISS to improve the lives of communities across South Sudan, the UN Mission under its Child Protection Unit has provided funds to ensure that the construction is a success.
“This is a very important structure for us. You can see those people carrying those heavy stones there. They are laying a foundation for the future of protection of children in South Sudan, so it becomes part of the fabric,” adds Orono-Orono.
The new building will soon replace a ten-year-old temporary structure whose floor is now dilapidated, with a dangerously hanging door among other numerous visible and invisible faults, where for a decade now, child protection issues within the military were being discussed.
“This office is specifically for the protection of children,” says Major General Chaplain Khamis Edward, Head of Child Protection at SSPDF, who is on-site to monitor the progress of the construction, currently at its foundation stage. The soon-to-be-complete structure will offer a space to ensure that the military’s policy on protection of children is implemented in letter and spirit.
“In Protection of Children, we are tackling six things. We don’t want these six grave violations to continue within the SSPDF or outside the SSPDF. We want to put an end to the use and recruitment of children,” says the senior SSPDF official. “We want to put an end to occupation of schools, abduction of children, sexual violence against children, hindering of access – access will be free for humanitarians to deliver what they want to deliver – and we will be moving ahead together,” adds the Major General, who has held this Child Protection portfolio since 2008, making him well versed with the issues that need to be corrected.
“We are progressing, we are not going behind, we will still continue [moving forward]. We want to continue with this momentum until SSPDF becomes a child free army and the image of South Sudan will be clean everywhere, where people expect children not to be in the army, and we will achieve our goal,” says Major-General Khamis.
And as the foundation of the building steadily moves into a much more recognizable physical structure, there is hope that issues of Child Protection will soon be dealt with firmly within proper structures, given the recognition that various violations being conducted by various armed groups against children need to be curbed.
“We have had a problem,” says Orono-Orono. “It was recognized that there are issues of child recruitment and SSPDF is listed for five of the six grave violations in South Sudan. The United Nations has to work with the parties that are delisted, through action plans and this office is one of the requirements in our work with the SSPDF and the military in South Sudan,” he adds.
According to Orono, Unicef and UNMISS officials will be located on-site, “to work, to build the capacity of SSPDF to ensure that the issue of child protection is engrained and becomes part of the security forces of South Sudan.”