The United Nations Mission in South Sudan has enlightened members of the Central Equatoria State Technical Committee for Child Protection on how to implement the comprehensive action plan to end and prevent all violations against children in the state.
To accomplish this, Fidensia Hillary Pitia, a Director at the state Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, believes that everyone on the committee should start at home.
“Before we impart the knowledge and skills we have been given here to our communities, we must first take charge as parents ourselves, by making sure that our children’s basic needs are met so that they can reach their full potential in life,” she said. “If we don’t lead by example, nobody will listen to us and other children may still be willing to do anything to get better lives in the short term, including joining armed groups.”
Ms. Pitia delivered her message to the 35 participants at a workshop in Juba, organized by the peacekeeping mission’s Child Protection Unit. Those in attendance were child protection focal points within armed forces, drawn from ministries that support the work of these focal points and representatives of the National Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission.
The focus of discussions was on the comprehensive action plan, signed by government and opposition forces alike, to end what are known as the six grave violations of children’s rights in armed conflict. These consist of the recruitment and use of children, killing and maiming, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, abductions, and the denial of humanitarian access to children in need.
Captain James Otim, representing the armed branch of the main opposition group, said that much more needs to be done to spread the word among all commanding officers.
“Radio talk shows where the need to keep children away from armed forces could be used to reach officers in their barracks or in the villages,” he suggested, adding that the long-term objective must be for South Sudanese armed groups to be removed from what is known as the list of shame.
The list being referred to is part of the UN Secretary-General’s report on the situation of children in armed conflict and contains national armies and other military groups known to violate one or more of the six grave violations.
Some progress towards this end has already been achieved: by adopting the comprehensive action plan to stamp out violations of the rights of these children, both the South Sudan’s People Defense Forces and the main opposition force have been moved from Annex A to Annex B, which lists armed groups who have taken significant steps to address these problems.
Vicky Waku, a Child Protection Officer serving with the peacekeeping mission, noted that while the UN is committed to support initiatives to make sure that the country’s planned unified army is child free, it depends on military officers and their practical efforts to make it happen.
“We have reached the time for action and achievement. As we continue to provide you with the necessary support, you are the ones who need to stop children from being associated with armed forces. Communities Central Equatoria State will remain with their ears and eyes open, observing how you go about this vital task,” Ms. Waku concluded.