A U.N. report says the number of grave violations committed against children in South Sudan has significantly decreased since the 2018 peace deal was signed, but violations continue.
The report says the U.N. verified “grave violations” affecting 618 children across the country from July 2018 to June 2020, with Central Equatoria state seeing the greatest number of victims.
By contrast, from October 2014 to June 2018, the U.N. verified grave violations against more than 9,200 children in South Sudan. Violations included recruitment into armed groups, killing and maiming, sexual violence including rape, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access.
“In the previous period up to 2017, I would say that violations against children in South Sudan were the second- or third-highest number of violations in all our docket, and we covered 21 countries. So you can imagine it was very, very high,” Virginia Gamba, special representative of the secretary-general on children in armed conflict, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
Children released from fighting
The report also notes that more than 2,000 children were released from the ranks of armed forces — both from the South Sudan army and the rebel SPLA-IO — in 2018 and 2019.
The U.N. official traveled to South Sudan to engage parties who were negotiating the September 2018 peace deal. Gamba said her team “intervened early” to make sure child protection provisions were included in the soon-to-be-signed Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.
“The specific provisions are very simple. It basically says that during the discussions of the peace agreement and before even the peace agreement was signed, consideration must be given to what would happen to children that are currently associated with armed groups,” Gamba told VOA. She said she pressed for the release of the children and for them to be handed over to reintegration offices run by UNICEF.
She said it was encouraging to see fewer grave violations committed against children in the most recent report.
“We can see a continued decrease between 2018 and 2019 because of these peace discussions, the peace agreement that was being created, plus the decision of the government to enter into a signed action plan with us to end and prevent all six violations,” said Gamba.
Even though language was included in the peace deal about child protection and the parties signed the joint action plan to end all grave violations in January 2020, Gamba said the parties must do more to make sure all the provisions are fully implemented.
"And in a country that is devastated, it’s very hard to both implement as well as to follow through and oversee that process, so a lot that needs to be done is actually implementing what was agreed. That’s one item that still is very much pending. We are seeing progress but not fast enough,” Gamba told VOA.
Gamba said a recent uptick in intercommunal violence in South Sudan might also increase the potential for violations against children committed by nonstate actors.
She urged all donor governments and the U.N. Security Council to provide resources to prevent further violations against children and to offer more child protection services in South Sudan.
"The more children are released, the more children are safe from conflict in South Sudan, the more they will need rehabilitation and reintegration, facilities and services to be provided to them. And these are resources. Without those resources, the risk of re-recruitment or the risk of crime increases considerably," Gamba said.