The UN Secretary-General issued his periodic Children and Armed Conflict in South Sudan report on 11 December 2014. The report covers the period from 1 March 2011 to 30 September 2014, and was presented to the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict on 6 February 2015. Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict included recommendations on the DRC to the Working Group in a special briefing.
Since December 2013, boys and girls in South Sudan have suffered serious violations, including recruitment and use as soldiers and rape and sexual violence. They have also had serious disruptions in their education as a result of attacks on schools or the use of schools for military purposes. Three parties to the conflict, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the SPLA in Opposition, and the White Army, are listed in the Secretary-General’s 13th annual report on children and armed conflict.
UNICEF now estimates the use of roughly 12,000 child soldiers, some as young as 10 years old. Children are recruited through coercion and abductions. Others join voluntarily, many with support from their families, or because of economic pressures. Re-recruitment is also a significant problem in an environment where few opportunities exist for children and youth. Schools have been used as recruitment grounds, barracks, and weapons storage affecting the education of more than 50,000 children. Children are also subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence within the context of recruitment and use, abductions and/or communal violence. A worrying characteristic of this conflict is rape and sexual violence along ethnic lines with reports of collective punishments and reprisal attacks.
Parties involved have made various commitments to protect children. In June 2014, the Government of South Sudan re-committed to the 2012 action plan (Recommitment Agreement) to end and prevent grave violations against children, in particular recruitment and use, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the military use of schools.In May 2014, the SPLA in Opposition also signed a commitment with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict to end and prevent grave violations against children, in particular recruitment and use, through inter alia the appointment of a senior focal point to engage with the UN. Unfortunately, these commitments have not been upheld, and children remain at risk.
In addition to holding these parties accountable to their own commitments and international law, the Working Group should emphasize preventive approaches to protecting children. In particular, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, with a specific component for children, should be supported. In view of the cyclical nature of the conflict and the entrenched militaristic culture in South Sudan, DDR requires a long-term commitment by the government and donors. These programs should respond to individual needs for psychosocial, educational, and livelihood support. To ensure sustainability, reintegration programs must also be linked to medium and longer-term socio-economic recovery and peace-building initiatives at community, state, and national level, which should include building and strengthening of education and child welfare services and systems, as well as security sector reform. Read Watchlist’s full recommendations here.