Arm in arm, these child soldiers are free to return home and go to school

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Ganiko and Jackson at the ceremony in a rural community in South Sudan (UNICEF / Rich)

Child soldiers, Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Right to education

They were among over 200 boys and girls released in South Sudan, where 19,000 children are still serving in armed groups and missing out on education.

Two boys stand at a ceremony to mark their release from an armed group in South Sudan.

Remarkably, Ganiko and Jackson are just 12 and 13 years old respectively. They were members of the South Sudan National Liberation Movement and among 207 child soldiers set free last week.

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In Yambio, South Sudan, children released from armed groups receive a “reintegration pack” to help support their transition back to the community (UNICEF / Rich)

“No child should ever have to pick up a weapon and fight” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan. “For every child released, today marks the start of a new life.”

The ceremony was held in a rural community called Bakiwiri, about an hour’s drive from Yambio in Western Equatoria State. The 207 children released – 112 boys and 95 girls – were given medical checks and will receive counselling and psychosocial support as part of their reintegration programme.

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More than 200 children were released by armed groups in South Sudan (UNICEF / Rich)

Their families will get food assistance, as lack of money is often a reason for children being recruited into armed groups. The freed child soldiers will also get access to schools and accelerated learning centres.

The South Sudan National Liberation Movement signed a peace agreement with the government in 2016 and is now integrating its ranks into the national army.

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During the release ceremony, the children were formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes (UNICEF / Prinsloo)

More than 500 child soldiers have been freed this year. But there are still about 19,000 children serving in the ranks of armed forces and groups in South Sudan. 

There are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world today in at least 20 countries. A child soldier is not just someone who is involved in fighting. They can also be those in other roles such as cooks, porters, messengers, human shields, spies, suicide bombers or those used for sexual exploitation.

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