NEGOTIATIONS led by the United Nations between South Sudan’s government and opposing forces in the country’s civil war have resulted in the release of 250 child soldiers and girls who were forced into slavery by armed groups.
Another 450 are expected to be released shortly, but thousands more children are thought still to be held in captivity by rebel groups fighting in the country. Boys who are captured are forced to fight, and girls are forced into sexual or domestic slavery.
The children’s charity World Vision has been working with the families and the newly released children, providing counselling, and vocational training and education. It has helped to trace families, and is running two interim care-centres for children who are not able to be reunited immediately with relatives.
The children who have been released were aged between 12 and 18, the charity said.
The national director of World Vision South Sudan, Mesfin Loha, said: “Some of the children have been in captivity for three years. The boys have been in active fighting, and the girls mostly in domestic servitude. Many have experienced sexual or gender-based violence.
“Many children were forcibly taken from schools, or snatched while working on farmland.
“Our main focus for the children is on their physical, mental, and psychological care. It has been very encouraging for us to find most of their families, and communities are very happy to have them back — they understand that they were taken by force, against their will.”
The UN office for humanitarian affairs believes that more than 100,000 children have been affected by abuse and exploitation since the conflict began in 2013, just two years after the new nation of South Sudan was formed (News, 15 July 2011). More than two million children have been forced to flee their homes owing to fighting in the past five years.
Mr Loha said: “South Sudan’s children have already seen and experienced unimaginable violence. It is jeopardising the country’s next generation. The cycle of violence must be broken. Peace in South Sudan, education, and gender equality must be prioritised to help the future generation build a new nation.”
The humanitarian situation in South Sudan continues to worsen: six million people are estimated to be in need of assistance. The UN has said that the country needs £1.22 billion in aid.
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