By Julius N. Uma
August 30, 2010 (JUBA) - The southern Sudanese army – the SPLA – said on Monday that it would demobilize all child soldiers from its ranks by the end of the year.
- Child soldiers in south Sudan (IRIN)
The Chairperson of the Southern Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (SSDDRC), William Deng Deng, made the remarks during the launch of a new child protection unit at the SPLA General Headquarters in Juba.
“By the end of 2010 the SPLA has committed to have demobilized all children from its ranks, and we give our full support to establish strong mechanisms for successful reintegration to civilian life for these children,” Deng said.
“The launch today is another concrete sign of the commitment of the Government of Southern Sudan in general and the DDR [Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration] Commission in particular to keep the protection of children, the future and hope of our country, a priority,” the chairman said.
The department, created within the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army General Headquarters is responsible for ensuring that no children are in recruited to the southern army.
The new unit will also work with partners to verify the registration and demobilization of children still associated with the SPLA.
The formation of the department, according to a SSDDRC press release received by Sudan Tribune on Monday, is in line with an action plan signed between the SPLA and the United Nations in November last year.
As part of the agreement, the SPLA agreed to release all children in their ranks by November this year as well as end the use of children soldiers. With three months until the deadline, an estimated 900 children are still believed to be associated with the SPLA.
Since November, SSDDRC say that 200 children have been released by the SPLA since the signing of the action plan. The commission says that 60 children have been demobilized since 2009.
The SPLA fought and bloody guerilla war against the Sudanese Armed Forces controlled by the central government in Khartoum from 1983 until 2005, when the two sides agreed to share power and wealth in deal known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement or CPA.
The UN estimates that 2 million people were killed in the conflict and over 4 million forced to leave their homes.
In 2004, a year before the peace deal, the Coalition to Stop Child Soldiers, estimated that there were between 2,500 and 5,000 children serving in the SPLA.
The campaign group’s Global Report 2004 said: ‘Despite a widely publicized child demobilization program, in which it claimed to have demobilized over 16,000 children between 2001 and 2004, the SPLA continued to recruit and re-recruit child soldiers.’
Since the 2005 peace deal the SPLA has continued the process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) described the SPLA’s launch of a child protection department as a key milestone to protect children from fighting or working in conflict zones.
Catherine Benue, UNICEF Southern Sudan Officer in Charge for the Director of Operation urged the government to ensure that the SPLA soldiers are aware of and observe national and international laws on child protection.
“We need to move beyond this launch and go down right to the smallest unit of the SPLA and indeed to each and every SPLA soldier for them to understand their obligations under the various national and international laws that the Government of Southern Sudan and the SPLA have signed to protect children’s rights,” Mbengue said yesterday.
Lise Grande, the UN Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Southern Sudan acknowledged the commitment of the southern army and urged them to continue respecting rights of children.
“We welcome the commitment by the SPLA to respect the rights of the child and ensure that the SPLA is child free”, Grande said.
“Children are the very core of Southern Sudan and we hope the Government of Southern Sudan and the SPLA give the Child Protection Department the support it deserves to effectively carry out its functions” , she said.
A panel of five members, comprising of senior commanders have already been appointed to oversee the implementation of the action plan. They will also guide the child protection department.
The recruitment or use of children under the age of 18 in armed conflict is contrary to international law and contrary to the laws of Southern Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Child Act 2008 and SPLA Act 2009.