By Vatican News
The children are boys between the ages of 13 and 17. Many of them had been abducted or recruited by force. Some of them have not seen their parents since 2016, when conflict between government and opposition forces re-erupted in the world’s youngest state. All of them were forced to work as child soldiers or to perform paramilitary roles within South Sudan’s armed opposition groups.
According to UNICEF, the children’s formal release is the first of its kind to occur in former Unity State, one of the areas hardest hit by the fighting. Since the outbreak of the conflict in South Sudan in 2013, UNICEF has supported the release of 3,143 boys and girls from armed forces and groups. The organization stresses, however, that around 19,000 children are still being used by various armed groups within the war-torn nation.
Following their release on Wednesday, the 32 boys were registered in a 3-year reintegration program, supported by UNICEF. Effective immediately, the programme will provided them with basic aid such as food, water, clothing and hygiene items. In addition, they will receive formal or vocational education and psychosocial support to help them learn how to live with their traumatic experiences. Each one of them will be followed and assisted by a social worker for the three-year duration of the programme.
The role of UNICEF
"Using children in armed groups violates almost all existing children's rights," said UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan. "These children have been deprived of their childhoods and have seen things that no child should ever see. But it's not too late to give them a future”. "Reintegration has no shortcuts”, he said. “It takes time and has a cost, but we have seen that it produces better results and prevents the return of armed groups afterwards”. Meanwhile, UNICEF continues to ask support for their reintegration programmes to help released children create a future for themselves.