Wednesday, February 11, 2015

South Sudan: More children released from armed group in South Sudan

Source: UN Children's Fund

JUBA/NAIROBI/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 10 February 2015 – UNICEF and partners are overseeing the release of another 300 children from an armed group in South Sudan.

The children in Pibor, Jonglei State, surrendered their weapons and uniforms in a ceremony overseen by the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, and the Cobra Faction and supported by UNICEF. They will spend their first night in an interim care center where they will be provided with food, water and clothing. They will also have access to health and psychosocial services.

This follows the release two weeks ago of 249 children aged between 11 and 17 years in the village of Gumuruk. Further phased releases of the other children from the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction led by David Yau Yau will occur over the coming month in what is one of the largest ever demobilizations of children. Cobra has advised UNICEF that they have 3,000 children in their armed group.

Despite the huge challenges facing the released children as they adapt to civilian life after up to four years in the armed group, there have been positive signs in Gumuruk that the reintegration process is working. In the two weeks since their release, 179 children have returned home to their families while 70 children live in the UNICEF-supported interim care center as family tracing and reunification is carried out. All 249 boys attend the care center every day for meals, recreational activities and psychosocial support.

“For every child released, it’s the chance for a new life,” said UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch. “We are witnessing the negative consequences that being in an armed group has had on the boys; some are withdrawn while others exhibit violent and aggressive behavior. Instead of playing, they march up and down.

“To avoid the risk of re-recruitment and to ensure that each child can fulfill their potential, they need a protective environment where they not only receive food and water, but also counseling, life skills and the opportunity to go back to school,” said Veitch.

The released children and local communities have overwhelmingly told UNICEF that education is their number one priority. UNICEF is improving access to education in each of the release locations by either strengthening existing facilities or providing new schools where none existed before. It is estimated that 20,000 children in these communities will benefit from these efforts. In addition, UNICEF and partners will be assisting children, many of whom have never gone to school, with vocational opportunities.

UNICEF has chartered flights and delivered truckloads of water and sanitation, education and health supplies to the Greater Pibor Administrative Area in recent days, taking advantage of improved humanitarian access by road in the dry season. In addition, UNICEF has 10 staff on the ground to oversee the release and reintegration programme.

UNICEF estimates the costs for the release and reintegration of each child is approximately $2,330 for 24 months. UNICEF is appealing for $13 million to fund the immediate needs of the released children and the vulnerable communities where they live.