S. Sudan govt, rebels abducted hundreds of children to fight in past month : Unicef

20th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

South Sudan's army and rebels have forced hundreds of children to fight in the country's devastating civil war in the past month alone, the UN children's agency said Friday.

"We have received credible and in some instances verifiable information that forces aligned with the government and opposition have abducted or coerced hundreds of children into their ranks in the past month alone," UNICEF representative in the country Jonathan Veitch said.

"Our teams on the ground and our partners are reporting a strong upsurge in recruitment at the moment and it is ongoing," he told reporters in Geneva.

UNICEF estimates there are at least 12,000 children used by both sides in South Sudan's civil war, which erupted in December 2013.

The violence began when President Salva Kiir accused Riek Machar, his former deputy, of planning a coup. Since then tens of thousands of people have died, two million have been uprooted and four million face starvation.

Veitch pointed out that both sides had "signed commitments to end the use of children in armed forces and armed groups."

Despite these commitments, the situation "has become increasingly desperate for boy children in many areas of the conflict zone," he said, pointing out that they were "being targeted (and) rounded up and sent to the front line."

Veitch's comments came after the rebels in the world's youngest nation said Thursday that the civil war will likely drag on and that "fighting will continue until one side is defeated."

The situation of child soldiers is particularly dire in the Upper Nile and Unity states, Veitch said.

He said "hundreds" of children were seized from the village of Wau Shilluk in Upper Nile in an attack last month by soldiers loyal to Major-General Johnson Olony, who commands an ethnic Shilluk militia in the northern Upper Nile state.

"Despite advocacy and appeals to the government and the Johnson Oloni militia which took the children, no child has been unconditionally released," he said.

Some of the children were meanwhile allowed to return home during the day, but forced to return to the training camps in the evening, he said, adding that UNICEF had "credible reports" that children were being sent to fight on the frontline in Kaka.

In Unity State the situation in opposition areas had also worsened significantly, with soldiers rounding up children and men in their houses and elsewhere, Veitch said.

"Taken together, we believe the seizures in Unite and Upper Nile total well into the hundreds in the past month," he said.

UNICEF is currently undertaking a large-scale demobilisation of child soldiers in South Sudan's Jonglai State, with up to 3,000 children released.

So far, some 660 children have been released into the care of UNICEF and its partners, and the agency expects up to 585 children, including a number of girls, to be demobilised in coming days, Veitch said.

Some 200 of the children have so far been reunited with their families, he added.

© 2015 AFP

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