Juba, 7 September 2018: At the conclusion of a four-day visit to South Sudan, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, highlighted that grave violations against children in the country remain at unacceptably high levels, with close to 1,400 children verified as having been directly affected in 2017 and thousands more bearing the brunt of the conflict. Therefore, it is urgent to address grave violations against children in South Sudan, ensure accountability and prevent the recurrence of violations.
During her visit, she called on all parties committing grave violations against children to take immediate concrete actions to end the devastating number of violations and prevent them from reoccurring."The UN stands ready to support the development and implementation of such concrete actions, including through the joint development of a comprehensive Action Plan covering all six grave violations and the provision of technical assistance for implementation as required," said the SRSG.
Her strong call to parties to conflict follows her first visit to South Sudan since she took office. The visit brought her to Yambio in the Western Equatoria region, where she met, among others, with the Governor, as well as Juba where she met the First Vice-President Taban Deng Gai, and the Ministers of Defence, Justice and Interior, the Chief of Defence Forces, the Inspector General of the Police, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National DDR Commission and other relevant authorities. She also met with civil society representatives, religious leaders and the United Nations team in the country.
Noting the tragic level of violence suffered by children in South Sudan as a direct result of the conflict, particularly in the Greater Upper Nile region, she called on parties to ensure that children are better protected from the effects of conflict. "The crisis in South Sudan is a children's crisis," SRSG Gamba said, emphasizing that 50% of the population in the country is below the age of 18.
"My discussions with the authorities lead me to believe that the time is ripe to work with the Government and revise the existing Action Plans so as to develop a comprehensive plan addressing all six grave violations endured by the children of South Sudan," she stressed. She was encouraged at the positive reception of this request by Government authorities. Furthermore, she urged that plans for the prevention of violations be included in any future peacebuilding initiative across all states in South Sudan.
The SRSG was encouraged by the 2018 releases of large numbers of children from parties to conflict. She called on all parties to redouble the release of all children from their ranks. She also emphasized the important role of the Government in providing long-term and sustainable reintegration support to released children, including psychosocial support to victims and communities.
"In Yambio, I met children recently released and was moved by their stories, which unfortunately are not unique. It is crucial that each and every boy and girl released benefit from reintegration programmes and the international community must take a strong step and support these children and their communities in a sustainable and comprehensive manner," she added. This year alone, three groups of children have been reintegrated into their communities; but there are more waiting their turn to initiate the process.
In her meetings with civil society, faith-based organizations and humanitarian workers, the SRSG commended their relentless efforts to improve the situation of children in a challenging context. She emphasized that access for child protection actors to monitor, verify and assist with improving the protection of children, respond to their needs and carry their voice is an imperative.
Further, the SRSG recalled the importance to integrate child protection provisions in any future peace agreement or settlement of the conflict, encouraged the criminalization of all grave violations against children in the review of the penal code, the full implementation of the Child Act and the swift signature into law of the Civil Registry Act. The SRSG offered her full support to these processes.
Key child protection partners contribute to improving the lives of children in South Sudan: "I want to thank the admirable work that UNMISS, UNICEF, NGOs and partners have undertaken and I encourage them to continue with this essential work," she further added. "No time must be lost in protecting the children of South Sudan from being used and abused in, for and by armed conflict. They are not only the future of South Sudan, but also its present."