200 children released from armed groups in South Sudan

200 children released from armed groups in South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS: The UN children's fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday another 200 child soldiers have been released from armed groups in South Sudan's Western Yambio area bringing the total number to over 500 children since the start of 2018.

UNICEF said this was the second release of children in a series that will see almost 1,000 children freed from the ranks of armed groups in the coming months.

"No child should ever have to pick up a weapon and fight," Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF's Country Representative in South Sudan said in a statement issued in Juba.

The children released were from the ranks of the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSLM) which in 2016 signed a peace agreement with the government and is now integrating its ranks into the national army, and from the Sudan People's Liberation Army-in opposition (SPLA-IO) led by the former First Vice President Riek Machar.

The UN agency disclosed that when the children return to their homes, their families will be provided with three months' worth of food assistance to support their initial reintegration.

The children will also be provided with vocational training aimed at improving household income and food security.

In addition to services related to livelihoods, UNICEF and partners will ensure the released children have access to age-scale education in schools and accelerated learning centers.

UNICEF released 311 children from armed groups in the Yambio area in February.

However, the UN agency said that an upsurge in violence in July 2016 stalled original plans to release children, but momentum is now building for further releases in future.

"For every child released, today marks the start of a new life. UNICEF is proud to support these children as they return to their families and start to build a brighter future," Mdoe added.

During the ceremony, the children were formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes, medical screenings will now be carried out and children will receive counseling and psychosocial support as part of the reintegration program which is supported by UNICEF and partners.

"UNICEF, UNMISS and government partners have negotiated tirelessly with parties to the conflict so as to enable this release of children," Mdoe added.

However, he added that the work does not stop here since the reintegration process is a delicate one which they must now ensure the children have all the support they need to make a success of their lives.

UNICEF added that despite this progress, there are still 19,000 children serving in the ranks of armed forces and groups in South Sudan, adding that so long as the recruitment and use of children by armed groups continues, these groups fail on their commitment to uphold the rights of children under international law.

"As peace talks resume and the future of the transitional unity government is debated, UNICEF urges all parties to the conflict to end the recruitment of children and to release all children in their ranks," it said.

The UN children's fund requires 45 million U.S. dollars for the children release program which will also support the demobilization and reintegration of the 19,000 children over the next three years.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to split within the SPLA, leaving soldiers to fight alongside ethnic lines.

The 2015 peace agreement to end the conflict was weakened after the outbreak of renewed fighting in July 2016.