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32 children released from opposition groups in S. Sudan

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July 24, 2019 (LEER) – At least 32 children were released from armed opposition groups in South Sudan’s Leer County on Tuesday, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said in its latest statement.

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Child soldiers sit with their rifles at a ceremony held on 10 February 2015 as part of a disarmament campaign overseen by UNICEF and partners in Pibor (AFP)

The move, UNICEF said, is the first formal release to have ever occurred in former Unity State, one of the areas hard hit by conflict.

The children are all boys aged between 13 and 17, the agency said.

The children were formally separated from the armed group during a ceremony in Leer, witnessed by parents and community members.

Some of the children have been used by the armed groups since the conflict flared up in 2016 and have since then not seen their parents.

“Using children in armed groups violates almost every child right that exists,” said Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF South Sudan representative.

“These children are deprived of a childhood and have seen things children should never experience. However, it is not too late to give them a future and that future started today,” he added.

After the formal release, the children are reportedly enrolled in a three-year-long UNICEF-supported reintegration programme and provided with basic services liked food, water, clothes and hygiene items.

They are also provided with formal or vocational education and psychosocial support to learn how to live with their experiences.

“Reintegration has no shortcuts. It takes time and comes with a price tag, but we have seen this gives the best results and prevents children from returning to the armed groups later,” Ayoya said.

He added, “We therefore call on donors to continue supporting the reintegration programmes, helping the released children making a better future for themselves.”

UNICEF said it has supported the release of 3,143 children from armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan since the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people, erupted in 2013.

Meanwhile, the agency estimates that 19,000 children are used by the armed forces and the various armed groups in the war-torn nation.

(ST)

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