300 children released from armed group in South Sudan

February 13, 2015 OPINION/NEWS

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By

Peter Louis

UNICEF and its associated partners are currently overseeing the release of another 300 children from an armed group in South Sudan.

The children in Pibor, Jonglei State, surrendered their weapons and uniforms in a ceremony overseen by the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, and South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA), Cobra Faction and supported also by UNICEF. They will spend their first night in an interim care centere where they will be provided with food, water and clothing. They will also have access to health and psychosocial services.

This follows the release two weeks ago of 249 children aged between 11 and 17 years in the village of Gumuruk. Further phased releases of the other children from the SSDA Cobra Faction led by David Yau Yau will occur over the coming month in what is one of the largest ever demobilisations of children. Cobra has advised UNICEF that they have 3,000 children in their armed group.

Despite the huge challenges facing the released children as they adapt to civilian life after up to four years in the armed group, there have been positive signs in Gumuruk that the reintegration process is working. In the two weeks since their release, 179 children have returned home to their families while 70 children live in the UNICEF supported interim care centre as family tracing and reunification is carried out. All 249 boys attend the care centre every day for meals, recreational activities and psychosocial support.

“For every child released, it’s the chance for a new life,” said UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch. “We are witnessing the negative consequences that being in an armed group has had on the boys; some are withdrawn while others exhibit violent and aggressive behaviour. Instead of playing, they march up and down.

“To avoid the risk of re-recruitment and to ensure that each child can fulfilled their potential, they need a protective environment where they not only receive food and water, but also counselling, life skills and the opportunity to go back to school,” said Veitch.

The released children and local communities have overwhelmingly told UNICEF that education is their number one priority. UNICEF is improving access to education in each of the release locations by either strengthening existing facilities or providing new schools where none existed before. It is estimated that 20,000 children in these communities will benefit from these efforts. In addition, UNICEF and partners will be assisting children, many of who have never gone to school, with vocational opportunities.

UNICEF has chartered flights and delivered truckloads of water and sanitation, education and health supplies to the Greater Pibor Administrative Area in recent days, taking advantage of improved humanitarian access by road in the dry season. In addition, UNICEF has 10 staff on the ground to oversee the release and reintegration programme.

The UN organisation also estimates the costs for the release and reintegration of each child to be approximately $2,330 for 24 months. UNICEF is appealing for $13 million to fund the immediate needs of the released children and the vulnerable communities where they live.

 

 

 

 

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Peter Louis

Peter Louis works as a freelance Videographer and Journalist in the Republic of South Sudan. He previously worked for Ebony TV, South Sudan Radio and South Sudan TV, Wau.

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