On 25 January, Joseph [NAME CHANGED], 10, stands holding an assault rifle, two days before his release from the SSDA Cobra Faction armed group, in Jonglei State. “I do the work of a soldier,” he said. “I don’t know how long exactly I have been a soldier. I think it’s about two years.”

On 27 January 2015 in South Sudan, UNICEF and partners secured the release of approximately 3,000 children associated with an armed group, in one of the largest-ever such releases of children. The first group of 249 children were released today in the village of Gumuruk, Jonglei State. Releases of additional children will occur over the coming month. Recruited by the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction, the children range in age from 11 to 17 years. Some have been fighting for up to four years, and many have never attended school. In the last year, 12,000 children, mostly boys, have been recruited and used as soldiers by armed forces and groups in South Sudan as a whole. The newly released children are being supported with basic health care, protection services and necessities such as food, water and clothing to help them prepare to return to their families. Counselling and other psychological support programmes are urgently being established. The children will soon have access to education and skills training. UNICEF is working to trace and reunify the children with their families, a daunting task in a country where more than 1 million children have either been displaced internally or have fled to neighbouring countries since fighting broke out in December 2013. Support will extend to local communities to prevent and reduce discrimination against the returning children and also to prevent possible recruitment. UNICEF estimates the costs for the release and reintegration of each child is approximately US$2,330 for 24 months. To date, UNICEF has received €1.6 million from the IKEA Foundation – a first and critical contribution to funding for the release and