Child soldier recruitment skyrockets in South Sudan

Child soldier recruitment skyrockets in South Sudan
2 min read
15 December, 2016
The New Arab asked representatives from government and rebel forces about UNICEF's latest findings on child soldier recruitment. Both parties denied involvement, despite 'abundant' evidence to the contrary.
A total of 177 child soldiers have been released in the country in 2016 [Anadolu]
South Sudanese government and rebel armies say they do not recruit child soldiers despite a recent UNICEF report that child recruitment rates in the country are skyrocketing.

Spokespersons for both armies told The New Arab on Thursday that accusations of wrongdoing were unfounded, the same day the UN agency published well-documented and "abundant" evidence to the contrary.

"The government does not have child soldiers," said Santino Domich, a spokesperson for the government's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

"Should UNICEF have any evidence to the contrary then they must bring it to us so that we can investigate it together."

UNICEF reported on Thursday that 1,300 children had been documented joining armed service in 2016 alone.

A total of 2,342 children have been killed or maimed since fighting broke out in 2013 and a further 1,130 children were sexually assaulted, according to the UN's survey.

"Since the first day of this conflict, children have been the ones most devastatingly affected by the violations," said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF's regional director.

The recruitment of child soldiers is illegal in South Sudan and any person found engaged in the practice can technically be punished with imprisonment.

In reality however, the use of child soldiers is rampant and widespread across the country and children are frequently kidnapped from villages by marauding gangs.

On 26 October, UNICEF announced the release of 145 children from service in the rebel army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army In Opposition (SPLA/IO). A total of 177 children were released in the whole of 2016.

A child soldier dressed in government army uniform
[source: Anadolu - Click to expand]

A spokesperson for SPLA/IO told The New Arab on Thursday however that rebel forces do not use child soldiers.

"We have not recruited any child soldiers at all," said William Gatjiath Deng.

"We had UNICEF come to our headquarters and asked them to inspect our forces - we allowed them to go find the child soldiers.

"Only the government has recruited a lot of child soldiers."

In response to this claim, James Elder, a representative for UNICEF, said that one barracks was not representative of a whole country.

"UNICEF and other UN agencies have an abundance of evidence that both parties in the conflict have been recruiting child soldiers," he said.

It is estimated that 50,000 civilians have died and millions have been displaced as a result of fighting which has ravaged the country for at least four years.