South Sudan: Child soldier recruits prepare for fresh fighting

South Sudan: Child soldier recruits prepare for fresh fighting
The UN children's agency, UNICEF, warned on Friday of a spike in the recruitment of child soldiers to fight in South Sudan's civil war.
3 min read
20 August, 2016
Armed groups in South Sudan often coerce children to join their ranks through threats [AFP]
In the past week, South Sudan's government has been recruiting child soldiers to prepare for a renewed conflict, according to an internal UN document obtained by AP.

The document says a senior politician appointed by President Salva Kiir led the recruitment of an entire village of boys using intimidation.

Some were as young as 12 years old. It was not clear how many children were involved. 

Armed groups in South Sudan often coerce children to join their ranks by threatening to confiscate their family's cattle, a key source of wealth and status in this pastoral society.

The UN document indicates that the recruitment of children took place shortly after the UN Security Council a week ago approved sending an additional 4,000 peacekeepers to the East African country to protect civilians after renewed fighting in the capital, Juba, last month.

Separately, the UN children's agency, UNICEF, announced on Friday that at least 650 children have joined armed groups in South Sudan this year alone.

"All the different groups are recruiting," said Justin Forsyth, deputy executive director of UNICEF.

"There is a mobilisation going on in some of those remote areas to get people into these armed groups because people fear the violence will escalate and they're taking advantage of that to recruit these very young people."

An estimated 16,000 children have been recruited by armed groups - including the national army - since civil war began in December 2013.

Army spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang said youth who join the military are not forced and that he was not aware of the recent recruitment of children.

Read Also: South Sudan: What hope for peace?

South Sudan's military and opposition forces have made repeated promises to address allegations of child recruitment, but both sides have continued recruiting since July's outbreak of violence, according to UNICEF's deputy executive director.

"They believe they can easily control and manipulate young minds," Forsyth said. The children then "can commit atrocities, and they will do what they are told."

Child soldiers are defined as anyone recruited to join armed groups under the age of 18, and the International Criminal Court considers the recruitment of those under 15 to be a war crime. 

In an interview this month in Unity state, one former child soldier said he had expected to do cooking and cleaning in the army when he joined at age 16 but instead was sent to fight on the front lines.

"If you go to the front line, two things would happen: either you will kill someone or you will be killed," he said.

"I was not happy because I was given a gun when I was so young," the teen said. "If you are afraid, the commander will beat you."

He was one of 1,755 former child soldiers helped free by UNICEF last year.

The children's agency has warned that the recent fighting which engulfed the capital last month and has thrown a shaky peace deal into doubt would lead to fresh recruitment.

"At this precarious state in South Sudan's short history, UNICEF fears that a further spike in child recruitment could be imminent," he said.

"The dream we all shared for the children of this young country has become a nightmare," Forsyth said, adding that children had been among the many victims of "rape, sexual exploitation and abduction as a weapon of war".

Agencies contributed to this report.