By Emmanuel Kayanga

The South Sudan People’s Defence Force (SSPDF) has pledged to end child recruitment in the army. 

Major Gen. Chaplain Khamis, the Director of Child Protection in the SSPDF said that the national army has  signed action plans to eradicate child recruitment in the army as it is a violation of children’s rights.

He said some of the challenges facing the SSPDF is recruitment and use of children by other armed groups in some of the recurring armed conflicts and intercommunal fighting across South Sudan, which slows down the demobilization of children from soldiers.

Major Gen. Chaplain Khamis was speaking during the commemoration of the Red Hand Day in Juba.

“It has come to our [SSPDF] notice that using of children in the armed conflict is a grave violation and that’s why we always say no to recruitment of children. And that’s why the SSPDF committed itself to sign a lot of action plans with the intention of eradicating this issue of recruitment and use of children in South Sudan. But due to some recurring insecurities in South Sudan that’s why we are still talking about issues connected to violations against children in South Sudan,” he said.

On the other hand, Patricia Njoroge, Chief Child Protection unit -United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), noted the progress made by the army as the number of child soldiers has reduced over the past years.

However, Ms Njoroge called on the SSPDF and SPLA/IO to be vigilant and strengthen partnership with UNMISS to raise resources in order to end child recruitment in armed groups as the country approaches election.

She further reiterated the UNMISS commitment in supporting the government to end child recruitment.

“We have come along way from the numbers of violations reported in the early days of the mission. However, as we celebrate our achievements, we must recognise the challenges that lie ahead. As we approach elections it’s imperative that we heighten our vigilance and remain steadfast in our efforts to protect children from being recruited by armed groups.”

Furthermore, the Canadian Ambassador to South Sudan Aly Khan Rajani, also reiterated the support and commitment of the Embassy of Canada to end child recruitment in the armed groups in South Sudan through continued advocacy and investment in education, health and livelihoods sector.

He added that, “ending child recruitment is not an option but a fundamental initiative for a peaceful South Sudan.”

According to the U.S. State Department, government and opposition forces in South Sudan are believed to have recruited more than 19,000 children for use as soldiers since the country’s civil war began in 2013. Experts estimate that there were between 7,000 and 19,000 child soldiers in South Sudan as of February 2021.

The Red Hand Day on 12th February, is an annual commemoration of the International Day to Prevent the use of child soldiers around the world. The day is commemorated in order to bring to an end the recruitment and use of children by armed groups.