Opposition forces in Greater Jonglei, some of them females, being taught about children's rights.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Army in Opposition (SPLMA-iO) soldiers stationed in Mogok Phow in Ayod County have committed to collaborating with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and humanitarian agencies to release any children found in their ranks.
They do, however, call for measures to ensure that the children returned to civilian life undergo a sustainable livelihood programme, to prevent them from picking up arms again.
Speaking at a workshop organized by the peacekeeping mission’s Child Protection Unit, a representative of the opposition forces said that they are willing to allow the UN to visit them, to inspect their troops and take out those found to be children.
“We then recommend that the UN and its agencies help us with the reintegration of the children into their communities and back to their families,” Captain Tutyian Kuang Ayang said.
If the boys and girls have a family to return to, that is.
“Some of the children are in the military because they are orphaned and see joining the army as a means of engaging themselves,” the commander explained.
Second Lieutenant Martha Nyamier has been in the army for more than 20 years and is adamant that it is not the place for children to be. said the army is not for children.
“But we [adults] are compelled to join the military ranks to fight for peace as a means of protecting our children. We would do everything to ensure that peace returns to South Sudan,” she said.
Several recommendations were made as some 50 opposition group soldiers, including six women, participated in the two-day workshop. Monthly trainings on child protection issues, some said, would help troops remembering not to recruit or in any other way involve children in their operations.
The capacity building event organized by the peacekeeping mission was the second to be conducted in an opposition-controlled area.
Both government and opposition forces have signed a comprehensive national action plan aiming to protect children from what are known as the six grave violations: killing and maiming of children; recruiting or using boys and girls as soldiers, sexual violence, abductions, attacks against schools and hospitals, and denying humanitarian access to children in need.
Child Protection Officer Rebecca Corn said the protection of children is essential for sustainable peace and reiterated that the peacekeeping mission will continue to work together with the parties to the conflict to make sure children’s rights are not being violated.
A lot of work remains to fully implement the agreed action plan. South Sudan still has thousands of children serving with one armed group or another, there are still reports of abductions, and sexual violence against boys and girls remains all too common. For these reasons, the country continues to be listed as a nation where a variety of rights of children are still violated.