By Robin Gomes
Critical reintegration programmes for children released from armed forces and groups in South Sudan may be forced to shut down in March if urgently needed funds are not provided, the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, is warning.
900 children are already registered for release, but without urgent new funding, UNICEF will not be able to provide support as they transition to civilian life
The three-year reintegration programme costs just US$2,000 per child, providing psychosocial support and a dedicated social worker, family tracing and reunification, education services, and other vital services to help children rebuild their lives.
UNICEF South Sudan requires US$4.2 million for 2020 to cover new releases of former child soldiers and their immediate enrolment into reintegration programmes and for the continuation of the programme for children released previously.
If adequate funding is provided, UNICEF will be able to support some 2,100 children released from armed forces and armed groups over the coming year.
UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan, Mohamed Ag Ayoya expressed his frustration over the fate of the children who are ready to start “reclaiming their childhood”. “Children are registered, verified, and ready to be released, UNICEF has a proven and effective reintegration programme, yet we don’t have the funding to continue this vital work,” he said.
With the likely formation of a unified government in South Sudan in February and hopefully prolonged peace, UNICEF expects more children to be released and in need of support. Release of children without sufficient support can lead to long-term repercussions for the children affected and have a destabilizing effect on communities.
The programme has been severely underfunded for over a year, with the UN children’s fund forced to divert resources from other areas of work to sustain the crucial support to incredibly vulnerable children. With these funds now exhausted, UNICEF is left with no choice but to suspend the reintegration programme if fresh resources are not made available.
Since 2015, UNICEF has supported the release and reintegration of 3,677 children who were used by armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan. The comprehensive reintegration programme is comprehensive. It addresses multiple challenges these children face, ensures effective reintegration into civil life and prevents children from being re-recruited. Most children who completed the programme have not returned to armed forces or groups.
Ayoya urged the international community to step forward and help UNICEF with the funds needed to continue the reintegration programme. (Source: UNICEF)