The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it believes scores of children abducted by armed men in South Sudan in mid-February are being used as child soldiers.
John Budd, UNICEF communication officer for South Sudan, said hundreds of children preparing for exams were forcefully recruited as soldiers.
He said the children were seized by a Shiluk militia aligned with the South Sudan government forces, a claim the government has denied.
“The government of South Sudan will not tolerate the use of our children for violence," said President Salva Kiir’s spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny.
“We have become aware that the number of children that were taken two weeks ago is probably in the hundreds,” said Budd. “Most of these children are not being held in one place. When you put together the evidence that we’ve received from various witnesses and also officials, UNICEF became very concerned that not only were they more than 89, but also we believe that many of them might be going off to fight,” he said.
South Sudan’s government has been engulfed in a civil war since December 2013 with rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
Budd said UNICEF believes a militia group loyal to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) might be responsible for seizing the children.
“We believe a militia group called the Johnson Oloni militia, a Shiluk militia, took the children February 15th and 16th, and the militia itself is aligned with the government forces, the SPLA,” Budd said.
Budd said, although the government has repeatedly said it has no control over the internal workings of the Johnson Oloni militia, officials have acknowledged that the militia is aligned with the SPLA.
He said UNICEF is in the process of preparing a report for the UN because it believes the abduction is a violation of the children’s rights.
“We are currently preparing that report, and it is a grave violation of child rights and that will get back to the UN. And, hopefully, we are going to try and put some sort of pressure on all the factions who took children to release them immediately,” Budd said.
He said UNCEF believes there are more than 12,000 child soldiers in South Sudan and the agency wants all of them out of the army and back in school.