By Kidega Livingstone
South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) attributes recruitment of children into the army, to prevailing insecurity and conflict situation in the country.
But recruitment of child soldiers represents a severe violation of international human rights standards.
Speaking at Red Hand Day Celebration, Maj. Gen. Chaplain Khemis Edward, Director of Child Protection for SSPDF, voiced his opposition against the practice.
He said the national army is committed to combat the internationally condemned practice.
“It has come to our notice that the recruitment of children into the armed forces has been taking place, and due to some recurring insecurity,” Maj. Gen. Khemis remarked.
He reiterated that with the help of partners, the institution is committed to halt the recruitment of children into soldiers.
Maj. Gen. Khemis maintained the SSPDF is not aware of the recruitment process of SPLA-IO forces which is deployed on different cantonment sides.
“We don’t know if they are coming with the children who may be recruited, but we are going to do the screening to avoid recruitment of children as soldiers,” he added.
He said thorough screening will be conducted before the forces can register as unified officers to prevent recruitment of children as soldiers.
Maj. Gen. Charles Machieng Kuol, Assistant Director General for Conservation Education in Wildlife Service, acknowledged the issue of child recruitment but said there were no children in the unified forces.
“In the unified forces, there is no child who has been recruited among them. This army is not for the parties, but it is a national army,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Children Agency (UNICEF) stressed the ongoing need to share responsibility in reintegrating children associated with armed groups into society.
Chief Child Protection for UNICEF South Sudan, Brian Ross, said that since the conflict began in 2013, UNICEF and the South Sudan government have successfully reintegrated 4,000 child soldiers with their parents.
Ross emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts not only to end child soldier recruitment but also to create a supportive environment for children.
Patricia Njoroge, Chief Child Protection for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), drew attention to reported violations of child recruitment as soldiers within the country.
She assured that UNMISS remains vigilant to prevent the recruitment of children as soldiers and is committed to providing necessary support to the government.
According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 250,000 children worldwide are involved in armed conflicts, underscoring the urgent need for concerted global action to protect the rights and well-being of children affected by armed conflict.
The Red Hand Day was celebrated under the theme: “By my handprint, I say no to the recruitment of children as soldiers.”