United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said a spike on forced recruitment of child-soldiers in South Sudan was imminent, amid fears that the nation was on the brink of renewed civil war.
Justin Forsyth, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF, said in a statement in Geneva after visiting South Sudan that in spite of the August, 2015 peace deal, fierce fighting broke out in Juba last month, killing hundreds of people.
“At this precarious stage in South Sudan’s short history, UNICEF fears that a further spike in child recruitment could be imminent.
“The dream we all shared for the children of this young country has become a nightmare,’’ he said.
Forsyth said that 16,000 children had been recruited into armed groups since December, 2013, when civil war erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing former vice president, Riek Machar.
“More than one in five of South Sudan’s 11 million people have fled their homes as a result of the ethnically charged war.
“Forces attacking villages often grab children and force them, at gunpoint, to fight while others join to save themselves from being beaten or killed and to protect their communities,’’ he said.
Forsyth said that investigation and available data showed that half of children in South Sudan did not go to school, and it accounted for the highest proportion in the world.
He lamented that renewed fighting risked reversing gains made in 2015 when UNICEF oversaw the release of 1,775 former child-soldiers, one of the largest demobilisations of children.
“Most were freed by the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction after its leader, David Yau Yau, signed a 2014 peace deal with the government.
“An additional 650 children joined military forces in 2016, amid numerous ceasefire violations,’’ he said.
The director said that UNICEF was calling for greater protection for women and children who had endured “horrific ordeals” in the recent fighting.
He urged that the systematic use of rape, sexual exploitation and abduction as a weapon of war in South Sudan must cease, together with the impunity for all perpetrators.