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Armed group releases over 20 child soldiers

By Moses Gum

At least 21 child soldiers working with armed groups have been released in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State on Tuesday.

The formal release of the child soldiers was conducted at the military headquarters at Wunyiik.

International Confederation of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (DDRC) were key organizations that witnessed and facilitated the release of the children.

Most of the children released mainly from Aweil East and other counties were said to be under the command of South Sudan United Front [SSUF] led by former Chief of Staff Gen. Paul Malong Awan.

The SSPDF and the 3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Boutrus Bol Bol said the screened and registered children were sent back to their respective parents.

He said the child soldiers were handed over to ICRC and DDR so as to facilitate their integration back to their families.

“We have formally released 21 young children under 18 years. These children were under the authority of the opposition group loyal to Gen. Malong,” said Bol.

Bol added that it is not good for children to be kept in military barracks, a move which he described to be against child rights.

The SSPDF commander said most of the screened children left their families due to poverty.

“We have learnt that many children left their parents and joined the army purposely to get feeding and other benefits. Some are being persuaded to join the army like what Gen. Paul Malong has done,” he said.

Bol expressed that the recruitment of children into the army is inappropriate and poses security risks to the children.

“No child should ever be in army, hold weapon and fight. It is very dangerous for underage children to be engaging in military battles,” Bol said.

Bol said the national army will not allow any child to stay in its barracks, urging parents to advice their children not to leave their families and associate with armed groups.

He also called the opposition leaders to stop recruiting children into their files and ranks.

The DDR and ICRC hailed the release of the 21 child soldiers while applauding the effort made by SSPDF to formally conduct the exercise.

“Today marks the start of a new life for the released children to be with their parents,” said Oluogu, a representative of the DDR commission.

He said his organization and partners will support the children and facilitate their return to their families and start to build a new beginning.

Oluogu said his commission will transfer the children to a transit and would train them for two weeks before reuniting them with their families.

Forced recruitment of child soldiers is increasing in South Sudan despite a peace deal last year, the head of a United Nations investigating body said on Monday.

Thousands of child soldiers were released after the 2018 accord, but the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said that investigators have recently observed a reversal as both government and rebel groups seek to swell their numbers.

“Ironically, the prospect of a peace deal has accelerated the forced recruitment of children, with various groups now seeking to boost their numbers before they move into the cantonment sites,” Yasmin Sooka, who visited the country in late August, told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Sooka later told Reuters in Geneva: “What our investigators have picked up is that in many of the hotspots you are actually seeing an increase in child soldiers.”

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