70 children released by South Sudan armed groups remain in interim care center

Most of 300 children released by armed groups in South Sudan on Wednesday have been reunited with their families, U.N. Children’s Fund Chief of Communication in South Sudan Tim Irwin told The Defense Post.

According to the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, a total of 700 children had been screened and registered for gradual release by the militias.

The South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM), commonly known as “Arrow Boys,” is expected to free 563 children. The militia signed a peace agreement with the government of South Sudan in 2016 with the plans to be integrated into the Army. At the same time, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) will release 137 young people.

In a ceremony in Yambio on Wednesday, 311 children, including 87 girls, were formally disarmed and received civilian clothes.

Irwin told The Defense Post that the majority of the released children are 12 – 17 years old.

“Some of the children have already been reunified with their families, as of yesterday, only 70 children remained in the interim care center (40 boys/30 girls),” he noted, adding that tracing of families continues.

“Ideally children shouldn’t stay more than three months in the interim care center, and our anticipation is that by that time all children will be out either with their families (reunified) while all complicated cases will be placed in foster care families,” Irwin said.

UNICEF has not received any reports of authorities questioning the released children, but they will be getting counseling and help of professionals.

“Counseling is an ongoing process and part of the reintegration package, so all children who are in interim care center are receiving psychosocial support services. All those who are reunified will also receive support services through home visits as well as engagement in areas where they will be receiving services, i.e. schools,” Irwin explained.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, however, a fresh civil war erupted with tens of thousands killed and nearly four million displaced. According to UNICEF, about 19,000 children continue to serve in the ranks of armed forces and militias.

“Not all children are forcibly recruited. Many joined armed groups because they feel they had no other option,” UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan Mahimbo Mdoe said in the release. “Our priority for this group – and for children across South Sudan – is to provide the support they need so they are able to see a more promising future.”

As of 2017, there were 56 non-state armed groups and seven state armed forces in 14 countries around the world that had been recruiting children.

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