More than 100 children have been released by two armed groups in South Sudan, bringing the total number of underage recruits released this year to over 900.
Tuesday’s release was the fourth in 2018, and like two previous events, it took place in the town of Yambio in the south of the country. Additional releases are expected in the coming months.
The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF hailed the release, but bemoaned the high number of children still in armed groups, which it says stands at 19,000.
“The progress made this year gives us reason to hope that one day all of the 19,000 children still serving in the ranks of armed groups and armed forces will be able to return to their families,” UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan Mahimbo Mdoe said.
“Until that goal is achieved, the work to end the use and recruitment of must children continue.”
During the release ceremony, the children were formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes. They will also undergo medical screenings and receive counselling and psychosocial support as part of the reintegration programme.
South Sudan has been dogged by conflict since December 2013, sparked by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his then-deputy Riek Machar. Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup against his rule, allegations the latter refuted but went on to mobilize a rebel force to fight the government.
The war has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions others, making South Sudan Africa’s biggest refugee crisis.
A peace deal signed on Sunday between the various factions is expected to pacify the nation, and will see the formation of a unity government.