National, News

UN alarmed by minors in army

By William Madouk


United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has expressed deep concerns about the alarming recruitment of children into the army.

According to UNMISS, there is a disturbing surge in reports documenting the recruitment of minors by armed forces and groups in Western Equatoria.

In his remarks during the 33rd R-JMEC monthly meeting, Musa Gassama, on behalf of Nicholas Haysom, said that parties to the agreement must stop recruiting and using children in the army.

“I would like to draw your attention to the alarming surge in reports documenting the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups, specifically in Western Equatoria State,” said Gassama.

“I urge the parties to adhere to their obligations to protect children during armed conflict, especially refraining from recruitment and use of children amongst their ranks in the lead-up to the redeployment of unified forces and the upcoming elections,” he added.

According to the South Sudan country office of World Vision, it was estimated that between 7,000 and 19,000 child soldiers were present in the country as of February 2021.

However, Maj. General Lul Ruai Koang, the SSPDF spokesperson, said Bilpam is not aware of any child recruitment in Western Equatoria State.

“No, there was an allegation of children being recruited in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, in Mathiang, and therefore it was received by the Department of Child Protection,” Gen. Koang responded when contacted.

“They are in the process of sending a fact-finding committee to the area so that those claims are counter-checked and verified. But we have not received any recruitment [claims] in Western Equatoria State,” he continued.

The No. 1 Citizen Daily Newspaper effort to get a comment from Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, the SPLA-IO military spokesperson for comment on the reports, was futile by press time as repeated calls to his known number went unanswered.

On September 20, 2023, the government of South Sudan partnered with United Nations agencies to disarm six child soldiers in Maridi, Western Equatoria State.

Sarah Bennet Gugu, a women’s representative from the county, lauded the exercise, saying children belong to schools and they have no business taking arms to fight unnecessary wars.

Mure Moses, a UNICEF Child Protection Officer, said rescuing child soldiers is part of compliance with the key international treaties South Sudan has signed to “make sure children here are safe and secure.”

The event was attended by the Head of the SSPDF’s Child Protection Unit, Maj. Gen. Chaplain Edward emphasized the commitment to flush out any recruited underage soldiers to ensure that young ones are not robbed of their right to education and conscience.

“Officers enlisting members under the age of 18 must be punished. The government is putting in place rules that will, when followed to the letter, end these breaches once and for all,” Gen. Edward was quoted in a UNMISS press release.

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