By Dipo Olowookere
A total of 145 children were today released by armed groups in South Sudan, UNICEF has announced.
This is the largest number of children freed since 2015, when 1,775 children were released in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area.
“Our hope is that today’s release will be followed by many others so that the 16,000 children who are still in armed forces and armed groups will be able to return to their families,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan.
During their release from the Cobra Faction and the SPLA in Opposition, the children were formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes. Medical screenings were carried out and the children were registered for a reintegration programme.
Over the coming months, all released children will receive counselling and psychosocial support. They will be placed in an interim care centre, until their families can be traced. Following their reunification, the children’s families will be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance as a take-home package as well as livestock to supplement household income during the reintegration process.
“Children in South Sudan need safety, protection and opportunities,” said Mdoe. “Our priority is to get them into school and to provide services to communities so the children are able to see a more promising future.
“With the ongoing fighting across the country, UNICEF continues to receive reports about the recruitment of children in Unity, Jonglei and other states. We urge all parties to abide by international law, to end recruitment and to release children who are currently serving in their ranks.”
An estimated 16,000 children have been recruited by armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan since the onset of fighting that began in December 2013. More than 800 children are estimated to have been recruited since the beginning of 2016.
UNICEF has been working with the Government of South Sudan’s National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission to secure the release and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and armed groups and to provide the children with livelihood and education opportunities. UNICEF requires an additional US$4,000,000 to continue providing the services needed by the children released today and those expected to be released in the future.
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