When we write 19,000 children, the number can appear as faceless bodies, souls without a past, victims of a tragedy, and casualties of violence. However, they are much more than that.
We know they are people like Mbara, John, Joseph, James, Rose, Grace, and Desiree. We use pseudonyms to protect their identity, but their experiences are retold and can act as representative of some of the19,000 children still involved in South Sudan’s armed groups.
In the past four years, World Vision South Sudan staff have sat beside more than 700 children formerly associated with armed groups. As the children shared their experiences, concerns, frustrations, goals, and hopes for the future our staff offered an empathetic ear and listened.
Their involvement with armed groups is aptly reflected by UNICEF, who highlighted that when children join armed groups, they “...are used in a variety of ways from support roles, such as cooking or portering, to active fighting, laying mines or spying and girls are frequently used for sexual purposes.”
They witnessed and were forced to participate in incidents that caused them nightmares years later.
We highlight the challenges they experienced as we raise a red flag and warn of growing conditions that spur the recruitment of children into armed groups. We echo the words of a 2021 Resolution by the United Nations Secretary-General, which warns that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted children.
“The socioeconomic impact of the pandemic exposed these children to grave violations, notably recruitment and use, abduction and sexual violence,” stated the Secretary-General’s report to the United Nations General Assembly Security Council.
Our team is committed to help the children formerly associated with armed groups reintegrate. We assist the children get back into school or enroll them in vocational training programmes where they were provided equipment to start a small business.
We know we can assist more children formerly associated with armed groups by employing a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary response and reducing the conditions in communities that lead children to voluntarily join armed groups.
We pray that South Sudan will be free of conflict one day and that no child will know the horrors of armed violence. Every child deserves to live life to its fullest, and we are determined to make it so.