GENEVA - The U.N. secretary-general's special representative for children and armed conflict says a chief benefit of peace in South Sudan is the likelihood that many child soldiers will be freed and reintegrated into their communities.
Virginia Gamba was present during the Khartoum peace process in South Sudan three weeks ago and met with government officials and members of the warring factions. She also visited camps where she met and talked with child soldiers. She said her experiences convinced her that prospects for the separation and release of children were very high.
So far this year, she said, 900 child soldiers have been freed. If the peace holds, it is possible that as many as 1,000 more children will be released by the end of the year, Gamba said.
Once the children are released, she said, they must go through a process of integration, and that could be problematic.
"The fear I have is that the amount of children that will be released in the next few months is such that UNICEF and partners will not have enough resources to handle the reintegration at one go ... which means a lot of children are punished by staying in the bush without a chance of reintegration until we have the capacity to absorb them," she said.
Appeal for funds
Gamba appealed to the international community to provide aid agencies with the money they need to reintegrate the child soldiers into their communities, so they can be given a fresh start.
She said recruitment as soldiers was only one of many violations to which children have been subjected. She said acts of violence against children in South Sudan were the worst she had ever seen, including in Afghanistan and Syria.
Gamba said gross violations included decapitation, the use of sexual violence against very small children as a weapon of war, abductions, and the forced use of children to support the war effort.
She said all of the warring parties — government and rebel forces alike — were guilty of these crimes and must be held accountable for them.