3 February 2012 – In what has been dubbed the biggest single release of children associated with armed forces and groups (CAAFGs) since South Sudan became independent, 53 young people were released today in Western Bahr-El-Ghazal State, according to UNICEF.
"The release and return to their families of these children today opens a new chapter in their lives -- a chapter of hope and opportunities,” said UNICEF South Sudan Representative Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque.
The children, 20 of them originally from Northern Bahr El-Ghazal and 33 from Western Bahr El-Ghazal, were released in Mapel from a rebel militia group (RMG) commanded by Maj. Gen. Hassen Deng.
“The recruitment or use of children by armed groups is a violation of international law and is prohibited by the Child Act of South Sudan,” added Dr. Haque.
Though the numbers of children associated with RMGs in the country remain unknown, the government estimated that it would support the release and reintegration of 1,500 CAAFGs in the new South Sudan Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (SSDDR) Policy that was adopted in 2011.
“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all children still associated with armed forces and groups in the country are released and returned to their communities to access reintegration assistance,” said William Deng Deng, Chairperson of South Sudan DDR Commission (SSDDRC).
Since 2005, the SSDDRC has been collaborating with UNICEF to establish guidelines on the release of children associated with armed groups as well as the prevention of future recruitment and use of children.
In 2011, UNICEF supported the SSDDRC with the release and reintegration of 208 children from RMGs operating mainly in Greater Upper Nile and Bahr El-Ghazal states.
“The government of the Republic of South Sudan is committed to support the DDR process and uphold international legal standards that protect children in situations of armed conflict,” Mr. Deng said. ‘‘We urge all armed groups -- including the renegade militia groups to cooperate and integrate their forces into the national army and facilitate immediate release of all children,’’ he added
The SSDDRC and UNICEF Child DDR programme for those associated with armed groups is part of a broader DDR initiative that includes the UN Development Programme and UNMISS.