The newly established Group of Friends of children in armed conflict would agree that a classroom, not a battle field, is the right place for children to be. (Photo from St. Comboni Secondary School in Juba).
The United Nations and donors from a number of diplomatic missions working in South Sudan are exploring ways to curb the growing number of child rights violations in the face of the ongoing fighting.
Launched on 11 January, the team calling itself the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, CAAC, is headed by the Canadian Embassy and co-led by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS. So far, the group of friends count on various UN member states and numerous diplomatic missions operating in South Sudan, including those of the European Union, China, Sweden and Norway.
The overall goal of the group is to gather support for the United Nations to ensure that all parties to the conflict remove children from their ranks in order to put an end to all forms of violations against them.
“This initiative demonstrates the international community’s concern over grave violations against children in the country and the continued work by the country’s task force to secure the release of children in the ranks and files of the perpetrators,” said Alan Hamson, the Canadian Ambassador to South Sudan.
“Working with all the armed actors in the prevention of violations, including by supporting resilient programmes targeting children who have been released from armed groups, can be good incentives for peace in South Sudan,” he added.
The chief of the UN mission’s Child Protection Unit, Alfred Orono Orono, said that the release of children from armed forces is critical to make the general public understand that violating their rights is unwelcome everywhere in the world.
“Releasing children will help restore hope to the families from which they come, allowing them to go back to school,” Mr. Orono said.
“Children should not be bearing weapons, nor should they be in the battlefields. They should be playing, going to school and having fun growing up,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s representative in South Sudan.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the UN has documented over 3,400 incidents of grave violations that have affected over 115,000 children in South Sudan. More than 17,000 children have been reported to be enlisted by armed actors.
The new Group of Friends constitutes an advocacy platform for the international community to dialogue with perpetrators of grave child right violations on the implementation of the action plans signed by the South Sudanese army (SPLA) and SPLA-in Opposition (SPLA-iO) respectively.
The SPLA, the SPLA-iO and the White Army are the three armed parties in South Sudan listed in the last Secretary-General’s report, published in 2016, on children and armed conflict. They are all part of the report for recruiting, using, killing, maiming, abducting, raping and sexually exploiting children.
Fredrick Schiller, head of the Swedish embassy in South Sudan, added that the Group of Friends also aims to support peaceful dialogue among the warring parties to pave the way for the return of displaced persons. This includes efforts to enable food aid to reach the most vulnerable children, as detailed in the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed on 24 December 2017.
“Most of these child soldiers – boys and girls – are orphans and they need education and health, so we look at the overall comprehensive picture of the situation and tie it into our aid efforts,” Mr. Schiller said.