Hundreds of children have been recruited by armed forces in South Sudan, as violations against women and children continue to increase.
The conflict in South Sudan began late 2013 and since then an estimated 16000 children have been recruited by armed forces and groups, with more than 650 children being forced to join in this year alone.
UNICEF said children continue to be recruited and used by armed groups, despite a widespread political commitment to end the practice.
Fearful that renewed conflict could put tens of thousands of children at an even greater risk, UNICEF has called for immediate action to end recruitment and the unconditional release of all children.
“The dream we all shared for the children of this young country has become a nightmare,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth, speaking from Nairobi following a trip to Bentiu and Juba in South Sudan. “At this precarious stage in South Sudan’s short history, UNICEF fears that a further spike in child recruitment could be imminent.”
Last year UNICEF oversaw the release of 1,775 former child soldiers, in what was one of the largest demobilisations of children ever. Renewed fighting and recruitment in South Sudan risks undermining much of this progress.
An increase of grave violations in South Sudan has also been highlighted by UNICEF noting that gender-based violence, already prevalent, has greatly intensified during the current crisis.
“Children continue to endure horrific ordeals,” said Forsyth. “Recent reports point to widespread sexual violence against girls and women. The systematic use of rape, sexual exploitation and abduction as a weapon of war in South Sudan must cease, together with the impunity for all perpetrators.”
UNICEF has called for unconditional access for all humanitarian interventions in Juba and all other parts of the country is urgently needed in order for support, protection, and assistance to be provided to children and women across the country.
“Without a fully operational humanitarian sector, the consequences for children and their families will be catastrophic,” said Forsyth.