As an international agency, protecting child rights is a key aspect that the Government of South Sudan and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) are collaborating on as part of the nation’s bid to establish itself as a true democracy with a spotless human rights record.
A major step forward was the signing of the Comprehensive Action plan to end and prevent all grave violations against children by all parties to the conflict in February 2020.
Since then, UNMISS, UNICEF and the Government have embarked on a nationwide sensitization and capacity building programme for all stakeholders.
A recent such initiative by UNMISS Child Protection took place in Pochalla, in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area.
The training captured a broad range of participation. 50 participants, including 35 officers from the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF), community leaders, wildlife officers, prison services officers, fire officers and local police, were trained on preventing and ending the six grave violations of child rights.
These consist of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, killing and maiming, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, abductions, and the denial of humanitarian access to children in need.
UNMISS however confirmed that they are going to hold similar workshops for the rest of our officers who could not attend the training and let them also know that, under no circumstances, should children be involved or included in any of their activities.
Lieutenant-Colonel Amati Ochan Guol, police inspector for Greater Pochalla described the workshop as very valuable.
When asked about his message to underage youth who may be looking at the military or police ranks as an quick avenue to get into the ranks, the Lieutenant-Colonel was emphatic. Their place is in school and they need to focus on completing their education and shaping a better future for themselves. It is against the law for us to enlist minors.
Colonel Joseph Olony, commander of the SSPDF in Pochalla, confirmed that . all children who may have taken part in armed conflict have been demobilized a long time ago and they have only qualified adults serving in our ranks.”
The long-term objective when it comes to such advocacy is to protect and prevent the occurrence of grave violations against children perpetrated by armed forces and groups.
This would ensure that South Sudanese armed groups will, finally, be removed from what is known as the ‘list of shame’. The list being referred to is part of the UN Secretary-General’s report on the situation of children in armed conflict and contains national armies and other military groups known to violate one or more of the six grave violations.
The young nation has made some progress in ensuring all children are protected from armed conflict: By adopting the comprehensive action plan to stamp out violations of the rights of these children, both the South Sudan’s People Defense Forces and the main opposition force have been moved from Section A to Section B of the Secretary-General’s annual report, in recognition of the country’s efforts to implement the action plan and commit to ending grave child rights violations.
Colonel Olony admits that arms and ammunition continue to proliferate in the hands of civilians, and these are often used during child abductions. Retrieval of such arms is a priority. “I believe more such workshops and interventions from UNMISS and partners will make a massive difference in sensitizing both communities and uniformed personnel,” he adds.
Mary Ojulu Obal, a sergeant with more than 20 years’ experience in the army, and one of six women who participated in the workshop, said she was happy with the increased emphasis on protecting children.
Our community needs to embrace the fact that children represent South Sudan’s future. As such, they must be educated and protected from all conflict and criminality.
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