UN special envoy joins demands for release of child soldiers by all parties in South Sudan

The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, today demanded the release of hundreds of child soldiers forcibly recruited by militias and groups aligned with the warring factions or the South Sudan Government, saying “there needs to be accountability for child recruiters and those who commit grave violations against children.”

“The recruitment and use of child soldiers continues to be a major challenge in South Sudan, despite commitments by the Government and the opposition led by former Vice-President Riek Machar, to protect children from the impact of conflict,” said Ms. Zerrougui in a statement issued later yesterday by her Office.

Ms. Zerrougui was quoted as saying that “No children have been released from the SPLA or Riek Machar’s opposition.”

“Instead, we are receiving reports of hundreds of new recruitments of child soldiers by militias and groups aligned with the Government or the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Opposition,” according to the Special Representative.

Scores of children, some as young 13, were seized by armed men in South Sudan last month and remain in captivity, despite intensive efforts to locate them.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has repeatedly demanded their immediate release, with its representative is Sudan saying the agency fears the children are being sent to the frontlines.

“The children abducted are reportedly receiving training and could be on their way to the frontlines,” echoed Ms. Zerrougui, adding: “I am very concerned and I call on the Government of South Sudan to take action to prevent this from happening.”

The Special Representative’s Office reports that South Sudan is one of seven countries involved in the campaign “Children not Soldiers,” which aims to end the recruitment and use of children in Government armed forces in conflict by 2016.

Led by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF, the campaign mobilizes global support and financial resources so the seven government armed forces listed in the UN Secretary General’s annual report on ‘Children and Armed Conflict’ become and remain child-free.

As the leaders of the Government and opposition meet once again to negotiate peace, Ms. Zerrougui urges them to act on their commitments to protect children and include, as a priority, the release of all children recruited and used by the parties to the conflict.

A militia led by Johnson Oloni, a commander integrated into the SPLA, is reportedly responsible for the abduction of the children, but the SPLA has stated it has no control over Oloni’s militia.

“There will be no lasting peace if we exclude children, who are the majority of the population. They need to be released, and there needs to be accountability for child recruiters and those who commit grave violations against children,” Ms. Zerrougui said.