The United Nations Children’s Fund reports dozens of children in South Sudan’s Unity State have been killed, raped, and abducted during the past two weeks by armed groups. It was not clear whether the attackers support government or rebel forces.
Fighting in South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile States has been escalating in recent weeks. Attacks against civilians also have happened with frightening regularity and with increasing ferocity.
UNICEF Representative in South Sudan Jonathan Veitch said the situation has deteriorated as both government and rebel forces try to gain ground before the rainy season stops their advances.
Speaking on a telephone line from the capital, Juba, he said there are only losers in this fight, especially children in Unity State who are being viciously attacked and abused.
“Survivors reported to UNICEF that whole villages were burned by armed groups while large numbers of girls and women were taken outside to be raped and killed, including children as young as seven," said Veitch. "Many boys, some as young as 10 years of age and seven girls are confirmed killed.”
Witnesses told UNICEF they believe the attacks were carried out by groups "aligned with the Sudan People's Liberation Army." But the U.N. agency could not specify whether the groups back government or rebel forces. Members of the SPLA can be found on both sides of South Sudan's conflict.
Veitch calls these attacks clear breaches of humanitarian law and said the government of South Sudan and opposition forces should use their influence to protect children.
He noted that about 4,000 people have taken refuge in the U.N. mission in Bentiu, while others are hiding in swamps and other places.
Veitch called the level of violence by armed men against the children staggering. He told VOA he does not understand why this is taking place.
"In some of the interviews that we have done with women who have survived has been that they have said that the soldiers were killing the children because they will eventually come back for revenge attacks, so it is better to kill them now," Veitch said. "I would definitely say that this is an unprecedented use of children in this particular conflict.”
Since the conflict between the government and rebels began 20 months ago, UNICEF has registered almost 13,000 children who have been recruited and are being used by all sides of the conflict. Many of the children are used as soldiers, others as cooks, messengers, and porters. Many of the girls are used as sex slaves.
The U.N. children’s agency is calling for their release.