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SOUTH SUDAN: Child Soldiers on the Rise

Displaced South Sudanese children sit with their belongings after just getting off a boat at the port in Mingkaman.
Displaced South Sudanese children sit with their belongings after just getting off a boat at the port in Mingkaman.
January 23, 2014
Children should not be fighting, says Plan International

JUBA, South Sudan – As millions flee the conflict in South Sudan, the UN this week confirmed that it fears children are being recruited to fight.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic told reporters in South Sudan that the UN had reports of mass killings, extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction and looting, and child soldier recruitment.

International children’s rights NGO Plan International said the practice of recruiting children into the armed forces is against international human rights laws and unacceptable. Plan South Sudan Country Director, Gyan Adhikari, said: “We condemn in the strongest terms the reported use of children as soldiers in South Sudan conflict and urge the actors in this conflict to desist from this practice.

“Children are particularly vulnerable in many ways during conflict and must be protected from any activity that will have long term negative physical and psychological impact on them.” Nearly half a million people are on the move in South Sudan as families flee fighting in the world’s newest nation. An estimated 10,000 people have been killed to date in the conflict, as rebel forces led by Riek Machar are pitted against government forces headed by President Salva Kiir.

A further 86,100 have fled the country altogether for neighboring Uganda as the crisis spills over the border. The UN now estimates that 80% of displaced people in the UN bases in Juba are women and children.

Although unable to confirm precise numbers of children involved in the fighting, the UN has urged all parties not to use or allow children to be used in the fighting. In 2010, the army in Southern Sudan pledged to demobilize all child soldiers by the end of the year. But several years later there are thought to be some 2000 children still remaining in the forces.

The UN has called for all children currently being used in the armed forces to be released. Under both international and South Sudanese national law, no person under the age of 18 should be allowed to participate in armed conflict.

Adhikari added: “Children recruited into an armed conflict suffer threefold. Firstly, they lose their rights to a normal childhood, including the right to education. Secondly, their risk of being killed or maimed is very high. Thirdly, even after the war, they may suffer from psychological trauma and limited access to decent work and livelihood opportunities.”

Plan has deployed an international team to help aid workers already on the ground with their emergency response. In partnership with the World Food Programme, Plan is also providing nutrition supplements to 4,700 malnourished under-5 children in Awerial.

“Our immediate concern is over urgent humanitarian needs,” says Roland Angerer, Plan’s regional director in Eastern and Southern Africa. “Displaced people are living in dire conditions in some areas. They need food, water, shelter, medical assistance and child protection. “They didn’t take anything with them, they haven’t had food, they haven’t had access to clean water, and they don’t have shelter. In some cases the people are wounded and don’t have medical care.”

About Plan International USA
Plan International USA is part of the Plan International Federation, a global organization that works side by side with communities in 50 developing countries to end the cycle of poverty for children and their families. Plan works at the community level to develop customized solutions and ensure long-term sustainability. Our solutions are designed up-front to be owned by communities for generations to come and range from clean water and health care programs to education projects and child protection initiatives.

How you can help


Make a donation to support children and families escaping violence in South Sudan.