282 boys and 1 girl have been freed in the final release of children associated with the Cobra Faction armed group, in South Sudan.
The release took place last week in Labrab, a village in a remote corner of the South Sudanese Jonglei State. It is the last chapter in a series of releases that have taken place since January and follows a peace agreement between the faction and the Government of South Sudan.
The Cobra Faction provided UNICEF with an initial estimate of 3,000 children in its ranks. Prior to each release, UNICEF and the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC) conducted an intensive and detailed screening and verification processes with each child. The total number of children finally released from the faction amounts to 1,757.
“We are very pleased to have seen this process through and that the final group of children have been released from the Cobra Faction,” said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF South Sudan Representative. “But the work is far from over – these children must be reunited with their families and they must begin the long and difficult road towards rebuilding their lives.”
During the release ceremony the children handed in their weapons and uniforms for civilian clothes. They will stay at the interim care centre where they receive food, shelter, medical and psychosocial support until their families are traced and they can return home.
Since January, 1,104 children have been reunited with their families and more are going home each day, where most are already enrolled in learning programmes.
The reintegration programme follows the Paris Principles that stipulates a one-plus-one approach: support for each released and reunified child will also be provided to one vulnerable child in the same community. As such the programme invests in infrastructure and services that will benefit the whole community. The two-year reintegration process, which includes on-going psychosocial support, costs an estimated 2,580 USD per child. UNICEF currently has a funding shortfall of 11 million USD for the programme.
“The release of the children associated with the Cobra Faction is a small piece of good news in what is otherwise a terrible situation for children in other parts of South Sudan, where many hundreds of children have been abducted and forcibly recruited in Unity and Upper Nile States,” said UNICEF’s Veitch.
“UNICEF is extremely concerned about the welfare of children recently recruited around Malakal in Upper Nile State, given the recent upsurge in fighting in the area. We again call for the immediate release of these children and we continue to stand ready to provide all necessary support for their demobilization.”