Thousands of children have suffered at the hands of armed groups during South Sudan’s civil war. They have been killed, maimed, abducted, separated from their families and denied access to education and healthcare.
Dozens of soldiers have just received training to be child protection focal points in the South Sudanese armed forces so they can prevent these kinds of violations in future.
At the end of a three-day workshop in Juba, they were urged by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who is visiting the country, to prioritize the protection of children and work together for peace.
“You would not believe the types of things that I get to see, the new ways of violence against children that are being invented every day of the week,” said Virginia Gamba. “You are the lucky ones, you have the one chance, not just to prevent this in your own country, but also to serve as a model to others and eventually when you can all become delisted from the lists of the Secretary-General on violations against children and armed conflict, you will be able to become peacekeepers and police peacekeepers and you will be able to go provide protection further afield.”
The SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict also attended the local launch of a global campaign called “ACT to Protect” children affected by conflict.
“It is about learning how to raise awareness in the population to ensure that children have the chance that we ourselves never had growing up,” she said. “So, we want to change something, let us change our own realities, let’s reinvent ourselves, let’s give the new generation the possibility of growing up free from fear and free from want.”
The campaign is supported by South Sudanese political leaders who spoke passionately at the launch about how children have suffered because of the violence that has plagued the country for more than five years.
“They may suffer because their parents are away from them and may be participating in the armed conflict away from home,” said South Sudan Opposition Alliance Chairperson, Josephine Lagu. “They may suffer because they may be denied any access to education. So, instead of being in school, they are displaced, or their parents may be displaced. They suffer also in terms of access to medical care and I think, during the time of armed conflict, we lose young children disproportionately because of a lack of access to medical care.”
The United Nations is partnering with the government and opposition parties in the campaign and all efforts to prevent violence against children.
“This campaign is simply to call all of us to make sure that we spread the message that protecting children is, not only, about what the government does, or what the armed forces do, or the military does but it’s about something that we are all going to do as part of our community,” said the United Nations Mission in South Sudan Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator, Alain Noudehou.
Violations against children has reduced significantly in South Sudan since the signing of a peace deal in 2018 that included a permanent ceasefire. However, many children still continue to suffer harm and it is hoped that the South Sudanese Government will sign up to a formal Action Plan to end and prevent all grave violations against children in future.