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300 child soldiers gain freedom from Armed Forces in South Sudan



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  • 9,000 children still in battlefield
Over 300 child soldiers, including 87 girls, gained freedom from armed groups engaged fighting war in South Sudan, the United Nations mission in South Sudan reported on Wednesday.
The children were disarmed and were provided with civilian clothes as well as medical screenings at a formal ceremony. It is expected international agencies, such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and local humanitarian partners will provide the freed child soldiers with counselling and psycho-social support as part of the reintegration programme.
The freedom undertaken in Yambio (south-western South Sudan), was said to be the first such release in over a year and marks the first phase of the overall programme which will see more than 700 children return back to their communities.
UNICEF assured that, the children with relatives in area will be reunited with their families, while others will be placed in interim care centres until their families can be traced. They will also be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance and with vocational training and age-specific education services in schools and accelerated learning centres to help reach their full potential, UNICEF added.
Mahimbo Mdoe, Head of UNICEF programmes in South Sudan revealed that, “Not all children are forcibly recruited. Many joined armed groups because they feel they had no other option.”  
He stated: “Our priority for this group – and for children across South Sudan – is to provide the support they need so they are able to see a more promising future.”
David Shearer, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for South Sudan, declared that “children should not be carrying guns and killing each other. They should be playing, learning, having fun with friends, protected and cherished by the adults around them.”
Shearer lamented: “They will have endured suffering, including sexual abuse. It is vital that they receive the support they need to re-join their communities and that they are welcomed home by family and friends without any sense of stigma.”
UNICEF, in conjunction with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and other UN agencies have been working to ensure the release of the children.
Given the volatile security situation, the UN Mission deployed peacekeeping troops to escort religious leaders into remote bush areas to make contact and negotiate with the armed groups. It also sent engineers to repair a road between Yambio and a vocational training centre nearby to make sure that the young people can travel safely for training programmes.
Shearer remarked: “I would like to pay particular credit to religious leaders who traveled into conflict zones and risked their own lives to bring these children to safety.”
Despite the release, about 19,000 children are still in the battlefield used by armed forces and groups more than four years after conflict erupted in December 2013. Release efforts have also been complicated by fighting as the one witnessed in the region in July 2016 that stalled the momentum.