UN: Armed groups in South Sudan free more than 300 child soldiers

Newly released child soldiers wait in a line for their registration during the release ceremony in Yambio. Picture: AFP PHOTO/Stefanie GlinskiSource:AFP

More than 300 child soldiers were on Wednesday released by armed groups in South Sudan’s war torn region of Yambio. The release was the second largest release of child soldiers since civil war began in the world’s youngest nation.

Of the 311 children freed by armed groups, 87 are girls, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said.

“This is the first time so many young women have been involved in a release like this in South Sudan,” David Shearer, the UN’s secretary general’s special representative and head of UNMISS said.

Shearer further called on communities to fully support the children as they re-join the society without any sense of stigma, stating that they could have endured suffering including sexual abuse.

So far the UN has helped secure the release almost 2,000 child soldiers and hopes to see at least 700 additional children freed in the coming weeks.

Of these, 563 are part of the South Sudanese government’s forces and 137 are with the rebels.

Human rights groups say child recruitment continues, even as South Sudan’s government says it has committed to ending the practice.

“The continued recruitment and use of children by the military and opposing armed groups points to the utter impunity that reigns in South Sudan, and the terrible cost of this war on children,” Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a new report this week.

Civil war has continued to ravage the young nation after a failed peace agreement between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy and political rivary Riek Machar.

The war has caused tens of thousands of deaths; uprooted nearly four million people roughly a third of the population and triggered sporadic outbreaks of famine, AFP reports.

The UN peacekeeping force, acting in unison with the UN children’s agency UNICEF, is negotiating for the release of child soldiers in other regions, particularly in the east and north of the country.