August 21, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan army on Thursday dismissed as “untrue” a Human Rights Watch report alleging it recruited children in Unity state.
“Let them come to our military bases and see for themselves officers that deal with demobilization of children,” Col. Joseph Mariel Samuel, the acting SPLA spokesperson told Sudan Tribune.
“This thing [recruitment of children] is a practice of rebels. When we [SPLA] were fighting Sudan government, we had children who voluntarily joined our ranks, but they were taken off military duties starting in 2005,” he added.
The report, released on Wednesday, faults both the government and rebels forces of using child soldiers in the country’s ongoing conflict.
“Under the laws of war, the recruitment or use of children under 15 by parties to a conflict is a war crime,” the report said.
The rights body, on the other hand, said the world’s youngest nation made “tangible progress” in ending use of child soldiers, despite the latest accusations.
“South Sudan’s army has returned to a terrible practice, once again throwing children into the battlefields,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Any person under age of 18 years is considered too young to join army.
Opposition forces have also used child soldiers, in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said, adding that “During the first days of the fighting in Bentiu and Rubkona in December 2013, the opposition forcibly recruited hundreds of children from two schools”.
Recent reports by the United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF) on the conflict in South Sudan revealed that around 9000 children had been recruited as soldiers by both the government and rebel forces affiliated with sacked vice-president Riek Machar.
In June this year, South Sudan’s warring rivals made a commitment to the UN, vowing to halt the practice of recruiting children for use in the ongoing armed conflict.