UNICEF and LGen Dallaire call for urgent action to protect children from becoming soldiers in South Sudan

As many as 16,000 children in South Sudan have been used by armed forces and groups since the start of the conflict nearly two years ago

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN, Nov. 12, 2015 /CNW/ - UNICEF together with the celebrated humanitarian, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire, and The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, today called for all sides in the South Sudan conflict to live up to their commitments and demobilize thousands of children who have been used by armed forces and groups since the outbreak of a brutal civil conflict nearly two years ago.

The new peace agreement signed in August calls for the immediate release of all children by both sides to the conflict. According to the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, between 15,000 and 16,000 children have been used by armed forces and groups in South Sudan since the outbreak of fighting in December 2013. UNICEF is working with the Government, partners and different actors in the conflict to identify children who have been used by armed forces and groups and ensure that they are released and re-integrated into their communities and families. 

UNICEF and the Dallaire Initiative said still more must be done to accelerate the release of children and to strengthen mechanisms to ensure that children are not used.

"We must learn from the mistakes of the past," said LGen Dallaire, who commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in 1994 and authored the book Shake Hands with the Devil. "There has to be a sense of urgency to protect children in South Sudan from being used by armed forces and groups and to ensure that the thousands already serving are immediately released and have opportunities for a better future."

LGen Dallaire, accompanied by Dr. Shelly Whitman of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, is in South Sudan for a five-day visit supported by UNICEF to help advocate for the end of recruitment and use of children as soldiers, while finding ways to support those who have been released and to prevent re-recruitment. In South Sudan they met with senior UN and Government officials, members of the international community and other partners and actors, so as to help strengthen commitments towards ensuring that children are released and protected from recruitment. 

LGen Dallaire's visit included a one-day trip to Pibor in the eastern part of the country to speak with some of the 1,755 children who have recently been brought out of the Cobra Faction with the support of UNICEF, the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission and other partners. 

"The children released from the Cobra Faction earlier this year in Pibor offer a glimmer of hope of what can be achieved when the will is there," said Ettie Higgins, the Deputy Representative of UNICEF South Sudan. "Children should be in school, not on the battlefield."

Hundreds of children in South Sudan have been killed or maimed, and thousands more have been used to fight and perpetrate violence against other children and civilians, or serve as cooks, cleaners or to carry heavy loads while on the move.

"Children are the priority and they need to be protected from joining armed forces and groups," said Dr. Whitman, of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. "We have a duty to humanity to do that." 

UNICEF and partners have provided the 1,755 children released in Pibor with mental and physical support and reunited them with their families. They have also received a care package of basic food items, a mosquito net and mats along with a goat or a sheep to help secure their livelihoods. Many have entered UNICEF-supported schools or received vocational training including in dairy and solar technology, fish processing, baking and leather tanning.

After retirement, LGen Dallaire founded The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative in 2007 with the mission to progressively end the use of child soldiers through a security sector approach. The Dallaire Initiative has helped shape the dialogue within public discourse to create momentum towards tangible solutions to prevent the use of child soldiers.

"It is important we keep children a top priority in South Sudan," said Dallaire. "Their protection will help facilitate peace, create a climate of security, and to ensure South Sudan will succeed as a rich, viable nation state." 

About the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative
Founded by retired lieutenant-general and celebrated humanitarian Roméo Dallaire, The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative is a global partnership committed to ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers worldwide, through ground-breaking research, advocacy, and security-sector training.

About UNICEF
UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca. For updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit unicef.ca.

SOURCE UNICEF Canada

Image with caption: "LGen Dallaire is in South Sudan for a five-day visit supported by UNICEF to help advocate for the end of recruitment and use of children as soldiers, while finding ways to support those who have been released and to prevent re-recruitment. (CNW Group/UNICEF Canada)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20151112_C5285_PHOTO_EN_543785.jpg

For further information: To arrange interviews please contact: Tiffany Baggetta, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8892, 647-308-4806 (mobile), tbaggetta@unicef.ca; Josh Boyter, Communications Specialist, The Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, Tel: 1 902 494 2392, josh@childsoldiers.org

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