Adolescent boys wearing civilian clothes walk away from the weapons they once carried as child soldiers, during a demobilization ceremony in a transit camp near the town of Rumbek, capital of the province of Lakes in southern Sudan, after being evacuated by UNICEF from a combat zone in a nearby province. They have discarded their weapons and their uniforms to symbolize the end of their military service and the beginning of their civilian lives.
Beginning on 23 February 2001 in southern Sudan, UNICEF, with the help of World Food Programme (WFP) relief flights, airlifted more than 2,500 former child soldiers out of conflict zones in the provinces of Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal into reception centres in safe areas in the nearby province of Lakes, where rehabilitation and family-tracing programmes are now underway. Ranging in age from 8 to 18 years, the children were demobilized from military camps run by the rebel Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), following a personal commitment by an SPLA commander to UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy when she visited southern Sudan in October 2000. Including children who received military training but never saw combat and those who lived through combat and other traumatic experiences, the former child soldiers were greeted at the transit centres by UNICEF-assisted local and international NGOs. The children, who are expected to remain at the centres for four to nine months, are receiving health care, education, psychosocial counselling and vocational training while family tracing is underway. Children for whom no family member can be traced will remain under the long-term care of local authorities and NGOs, assisted by UNICEF. There are an estimated 9,000 child soldiers in various armed groups throughout Sudan.