An action plan, no matter how comprehensive its scope, is only as good as its implementation. For this reason, South Sudan has just formed two committees tasked with turning the words of a national action plan to keep children away from armed forces into reality.
“Allow me to reassure you of the continuous commitment of the UN to support the government and these new committees with the implementation of the comprehensive action plan,” a pleased Alfred Orono Orono, chief of the UN peacekeeping mission’s Child Protection Unit, said to those attending the milestone event.
The overarching goal of the new high-level inter-ministerial committee and its sibling, a technical committee, is to release all children from the rank and file of armed groups – and in the process remove South Sudanese armies, most notably the government one and the military branch of the main opposition group, from the UN Secretary-General’s list of shame: the one that names armed state and non-state actors known for committing several of the six violations of children’s rights that are considered particularly grave.
To achieve this objective, both the South Sudan’s People’s Defence Forces, SSPDF, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in-Opposition, SPLA-iO, must put an end to recruiting, using, killing, maiming and exposing of children to sexual violence. They will also have to stop abducting children, attacking schools and hospitals and denying humanitarian access to boys and girls in need.
While thousands of South Sudanese children remain affiliated with armed groups, significant progress has been made. Since 2015, some 2,500 boys and girls have been released from different armies across the country. These boys and girls have been offered schooling, vocational trainings and sociopsychological support to facilitate their reintegration into civilian life.
Angelina Teny, Minister of Defence, stressed the need for this latter part as she urged all stakeholders to work collectively to keep children away from military ranks.
“Our responsibility to ensure access to school is paramount. The issue of poverty is also a big factor. There is a need to make sure that released children can return to a home where a daily meal or two will prevent them from venturing back into such environments,” the Minister stated.
The progress achieved so far has been significantly boosted by three key steps: the training of a large number of child protection focal points within all armed groups, the constitution of a Joint Verification Committee in 2019 and the government signing a comprehensive action plan to eradicate the six grave violations against children.
The mandate of the Joint Verification Committee is to monitor violations of children’s rights and to visit military barracks and cantonment sites to release boys and girls associated with the armed forces dwelling there. It consists of numerous people, including representatives from the peacekeeping mission’s Child Protection Unit, the UN Children’s Fund, the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission and three different armed forces and groups.
The subsequent signing of the comprehensive action plan in February this year made the international community take notice.
“That step meant that the report of the UN Secretary-General moved the two main South Sudanese armed forces onto an annex listing parties that have put in place measures to improve the protection of children. This is a very encouraging development,” comments Mr. Orono Orono.
He also called on child protection focal points to seize the opportunity of having a transitional government of national unity in place to engage with the UN to release more of the boys and girls still associated with armed groups.