Scores of children who were abducted last week in Upper Nile state in South Sudan are reportedly undergoing military training, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Monday.
"Witnesses have said they are in a training camp, and witnesses have told UNICEF that, on at least three occasions, they have been marched around the town" of Wau Shilluk, said John Budd, UNICEF communications officer for South Sudan.
The U.N. agency reported over the weekend that at least 89 children were abducted in Wau Shilluk, which is around 12 miles northeast of the Upper Nile state capital, Malakal. Many were taken as they were getting ready to sit for school exams and others were taken from their homes, UNICEF said in a statement.
UNICEF said it still does not know who was behind the mass abduction which the agency claims occurred in a part of Upper Nile that is under government control.
Law bans child soldiers
South Sudan has had a law on the books since 2008 banning children from joining armed groups, and the government and several rebel groups have pledged to stop recruiting children to fight in armed conflicts. But last week, Human Rights Watch claimed the government is actively recruiting boys as young as 13 as soldiers in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state. Malakal is just 12 miles southwest of Wau Shilluk.
The same Human Rights Watch report said opposition forces have also recruited and used many child soldiers.
In a report released last year, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the recruitment and use of children as soldiers has increased since South Sudan plunged into conflict in December 2013. Ban said the groups that are chiefly responsible for using child soldiers are the army, six rebel groups, including the one led by former vice president Riek Machar, and armed groups from Sudan.
UNICEF has called for the children who were abducted in Wau Shilluk to be released immediately.