Unicef has secured the release of nearly 3,000 South Sudanese children who have been used as soldiers by armed forces and groups during the conflict in the country.
An initial group of 280 children, aged between 11 and 17, were released by the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction and surrendered their weapons and uniforms during a ceremony at Gumuruk village in South Sudan’s eastern Jonglei State.
Some are believed to have been fighting for up to four years and many have never attended school.
In 2014, 12,000 children, mostly boys, were recruited and used as soldiers by armed forces and groups across South Sudan.
Additional phased releases are scheduled to occur over the coming month, in what is claimed to be one of the largest ever demobilisations of children in a conflict zone.
Unicef South Sudan representative Jonathan Veitch said: ”These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience.
”The release of thousands of children requires a massive response to provide the support and protection these children need to begin rebuilding their lives.”
Unicef, which estimates that the release and reintegration of each child will cost approximately $2,330 for one year, is working with its partners to trace and reunite children with their families.
Currently supported with basic healthcare, protection services and necessities such as food, water and clothing, the children will soon have access to education and skills training programmes, and will also undergo counselling and other psychological support programmes before returning to their families.
Veitch added: ”The successful reintegration of these children back into their communities depends on a timely, coordinated response to meet their immediate and long-term needs.”
Supported by the EU and German and UK National Committees for Unicef, the agency has received €1.6m from the IKEA Foundation and is appealing for an additional $10m in support.
More than one million children have either been displaced internally or have fled to neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict in South Sudan in December 2013.
Image: Children have been recruited and used as soldiers by armed forces and groups in South Sudan. Photo: courtesy of UNMISS / Ilya Medvedev.