If they had not already understood the devastating effects war can have on a child, 70 government military and police officers gathered in Nzara County for a workshop were told by a boy speaking candidly about his own experiences.
“When I was 12, I fled rebel attacks and wandered through a country made unrecognizable by violence. When I was 13, I was taken over by the government army and I became a soldier. I don’t want to remember this tragic story. What I mean is; please stop this practice [of recruiting children to armed forces]the boy begged.
Speaking, he perfectly summed up the message that the Child Protection Unit of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan had come to deliver to this part of Western Equatoria.
Government and opposition forces in South Sudan have committed numerous serious violations of children’s rights. According to a recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, both sides recruited boys and girls and used them as bodyguards, servants, cooks or in combat, resulting in death or mutilation of a large number of them.
During the workshop, the army and police commanders respectively acknowledged the roles they played in these atrocities and begged to learn from them.
“We human beings can learn from our mistakes. I want to assure you that if another war breaks out, we will know how to deal with children better than before, ”said Army Lt. Col. Madol Dhor Wol. “When I return to our base, I will begin educating our colleagues who did not attend the training.
The South Sudan People’s Defense Forces and the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Army signed agreements on the eradication of violations of children in armed conflict and a national action plan detailing how this is to be do. Much work remains to be done, as thousands of South Sudanese boys and girls are still serving in one armed group or another.