The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday said there are still over 16,000 South Sudanese children involved in active combat among the various armed groups in the war-torn country despite the release of about 2,000 children since 2013.
UNICEF South Sudan spokesman Timothy Irwin said in an interview in Juba that they estimate more than 800 children have been recruited by armed groups in 2016.
“We estimate that there are still more than 16,000 children associated with armed groups in South Sudan. We estimate that more than 800 children have been recruited by armed groups in 2016,” Irwin revealed.
The South Sudan conflict has been raging on since outbreak in December 2013 between Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in opposition led by ousted First Vice President Riek Machar and troops loyal to President Salva Kiir.
“Since 2013, around 2,000 children have been released. The largest group was early last year also in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area when 1,775 children were released,” he added.
As the violent fighting in the oil-rich impoverished country seemed to subside after formation of the transitional unity government in mid-April, it again intensified in July between warring parties in Juba, characterized by rape, child abductions and looting of cattle in the mainly cattle keeping northern region of the country.
Irwin disclosed that upon release from the armed forces and armed groups, the National Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC) screens and registers the released children.
“The specific needs and vulnerabilities of all children, especially girls are assessed. The children are then placed in interim care facilities, where the priority is to provide immediate psychosocial support and family reunification services,” he said.
He also added that these children stay in the facility for the shortest time possible, where they receive assistance including clothes, psychosocial support and health services.
“Further reintegration services including education, vocational training and income-generation activities such as livestock and agricultural training, are provided to ensure that returning children are able to support themselves and their families and are not perceived as a burden,” he revealed.