Government and opposition military side by side at an UNMISS-led training on child protection.
“It is true that a child is an immature human being with full rights. We would not be what we are today if our rights are violated in one way or the other during our childhood.”
That insight came from Major Abak Mwaka, a soldier serving in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition during a four-day training session on child protection organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and UNICEF.
More than 50 mostly young and female officers from government and opposition forces, who are currently living in cantonment sites or military barracks, took part in the training to educate them about the six grave violations against children. These violations include killing and maiming, recruitment and use of children as soldiers, sexual violence, abduction, attacks against schools and hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access.
During the war prior to independence in 2011 as well the following five-year civil war, many children suffered immense harm including physical violence, rape, being displaced from their homes and separated from their families.
The Child Act in South Sudan offers the following protection to children: “Anybody below the age of 18 is a child, and such a person must be protected from anything that is harmful to her/him whether physically, psychologically, mentally or any other way.”
Despite that legislation and progress that has been made since the signing of the peace agreement in September 2018, more needs to be done to ensure that military forces, in particular, protect and respect the rights of children.
The Chief Child Protection Officer of the Other Armed Alliances questioned participants at the training about their commitment to the rights of minors, particularly whether they would be brave enough to challenge their own chain of command.
“To all of us, whereever we are based, if you saw your commander having an underage girl what can you do?” he asked.
“I will go directly and salute and tell him, commander, your being with this young girl is sexual violence. The training you sent me to be part of tells us to let such children be free,” answered one brave officer.
It is part of the mandate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to monitor, verify and report on any human rights abuses, including those committed against children.
“As child protection focal points in the various armed forces or groups, we expect you to come up with a work plan to monitor, verify and respond to the six grave child right violations,” UNMISS child protection officer, Emily Naphambo told the participants.