New York, 15 October 2018 –  The level of violence and brutality endured by children in South Sudan is dismaying said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, as a new report shows that more than 9,200 children were verified by the United Nations as victims of grave violations in the close to four years covered by the report (October 2014 – June 2018).

“Grave violations against children were often interconnected: abduction took place for the purpose of recruitment, boys and girls recruited were killed or maimed or sexually abused. Many children were also used to commit atrocities against civilians and other children, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence,” SRSG Gamba said.

Across the country, more than 5,700 children were verified as having been recruited and used, making it the most prevalent violation. In addition, almost 2,000 were abducted and more than 980 children were killed or maimed, both by Government Forces and armed groups.

Sexual violence, including against children, was used as a tactic of war and as a form of collective punishment. More than 650 children were verified as sexually abused during the reporting period, with 75 % of the cases involving gruesome gang rapes. Due to underreporting of cases of sexual violence, including against boys, numbers are likely to be higher.

The Greater Upper Nile region witnessed massive grave violations against children, and so did the Greater Equatoria as the conflict progressively expanded the region.

Efforts to protect children, such as the implementation of the 2012 Action Plan with the SPLA recommitted to in 2014, was seriously disrupted by the outbreak of conflict during the reporting period.

“It is urgent to address impunity for perpetrators and revise the existing Action Plan into a comprehensive one to end and prevent all grave violations against children, as agreed with the authorities during my visit in September,” SRSG Gamba said, adding that accountability measures, the enforcement of national law and the signature into law of the Civil Registry Act to systematize birth registration should also be prioritized.

Supporting Reintegration as Part of Peacebuilding Efforts

South Sudan stands as one of the countries with the highest number of children released from armed forces and groups, with 2,740 boys and girls released between January 2015 and June 2018. Released children received reintegration support from the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Commission, UNICEF and partner NGOs. SRSG Gamba calls on international partners to secure funding for sustainable and long-term reintegration support for all released children, a crucial element to avoid the re-recruitment of children and to rebuild the country.

Despite these encouraging releases, the situation remained grim for children in South Sudan and the collection and verification of information as well as the humanitarian response to children in need was often hindered by access constraints. Almost 970 incidents of grave violations against children could not be verified and were estimated to have affected more than 9,500 children. In addition, the United Nations recorded close to 1,500 cases of denial of humanitarian access, with a doubling of numbers between 2014 and 2017. Cases of denial of humanitarian access included harassment, assault, intimidation, abduction and killing of humanitarian personnel, including of child protection workers, while they were providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance to children. There were also numerous examples of looting of humanitarian supplies.

“Obstructing the timely delivery of humanitarian aid can have dramatic consequences for children in need, in a country already facing enormous humanitarian challenges, including episodes of famine and outbreaks of diseases,” SRSG Gamba said.

She calls on the Government and armed groups to provide unimpeded access for the United Nations and partners to provide vital humanitarian assistance for children in need in all parts of the country.

Education and health were also targeted, the UN verified 76 attacks on schools and 96 on hospitals. Beyond the destruction of facilities, military use of schools and the threats against personnel and students prevented over 32,500 children to access education during the reporting period.

The SRSG commends the recent accession in September by South Sudan to the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and encourages the authorities to speed-up further efforts to protect boys and girls.

“Grave violations against children will only stop when South Sudan will reach durable peace. The recent signing of the Peace agreement is encouraging and should be used as an opportunity to prioritize the protection of children and prevent grave violations,” SRSG Gamba said. “The UN stands ready to work with all parties, including on a renewed Action Plan covering all six grave violations with the Government.”

Read the full report