JUBA/ NAIROBI/ HONG KONG, 28 February 2015 – Scores of children seized by armed men from a village in northern South Sudan two weeks ago remain forcibly recruited as child soldiers, despite intensive efforts to locate and free them.
One week ago UNICEF reported that 89 children preparing for exams were forcibly recruited as child soldiers, but the organization now believes the number of children may be in the hundreds. In addition, adult males were also forcibly recruited during the February 15 and 16 raid.
Following information provided to a team of staff from UNICEF and UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism partners, UNICEF is confident that the armed group which took the children was a Shilluk Militia under the control of Johnson Oloni. This militia is aligned with the Government’s SPLA forces.
In an intensive information gathering exercise, both in Juba and in Upper Nile State (where the seizures took place), UNICEF and MRM partners have tried to piece together what happened during and after the raid and to discover the location of the children. A formal UN Monitoring Report of a grave violation of child rights is being prepared. One of the challenges hampering evidence gathering has been a heavy militia presence remaining in Wau Shilluk, thus making it impossible to receive first-hand information.
However, from reports received so far it is becoming clear the children are not together in a single group. UNICEF understands some of the children – including some of the school boys – were allowed back into their village to eat with their parents and in some instances some children were allowed to go to school. They were then taken away again at night.
In discussions with the SPLA in Melut it was confirmed the forced recruitment of the children took place and many of the children were being sent to Melut. Witnesses also stated many children have been seen in a training camp near Wau Shilluk and that in Melut children as young as 12 years old were seen carrying guns but not in uniform.
The SPLA stated that the Johnson Oloni militia was outside its control.
UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, Jonathan Veitch said when you put all these different witness reports together a strong picture emerged that the children may have been about to be dispatched to fight at Kaka, about forty five minutes north of Melut by boat.
“We fear they are going from the classroom to the front line,” said UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan, Jonathan Veitch. “UNICEF appeals to Johnson Oloni to let those children go back to school and be with their families, immediately.”
Veitch also urged the Government of South Sudan to use whatever influence it had to secure the children’s release.