Had they not already understood the devastating effects that war can have on a child, 70 officers from the government’s military and police forces gathered in Nzara County for a workshop were made aware of them by a boy speaking frankly about his own experiences.
“At the age of 12, I fled attacking rebels and was wandering in a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. At 13, I was picked up by the government army and became a soldier. I don’t want to remember this tragic story. What I want to say is; please stop this practice [of recruiting children to armed forces], the boy pleaded.
As he spoke, he perfectly summarized the message that the Child Protection Unit of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan had come to deliver to this part of Western Equatoria.
Both government and opposition forces in South Sudan have committed many and grave violations of the rights of children. According to a recent report from the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, both sides have recruited boys and girls and used them as bodyguards, servants, cooks or in combat, resulting in many of them having been killed or maimed.
At the workshop, the commanders of the military and police respectively admitted the roles they have played in these atrocities and pleaded to learn their lesson.
“We human beings can learn from our mistakes. I want to assure you that if another war erupts, we will know how to handle children better than before,” said army Lieutenant Colonel Madol Dhor Wol. “When I return to our base, I will start educating our colleagues who didn’t attend the training.”
Both the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition have signed agreements on eradicating violations of children in armed conflict and a national action plan detailing how this is meant to be done. Much work remains, as thousands of South Sudanese boys and girls are still serving with one armed group or another.