The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on Friday reiterated its call for an immediate end to the use of children in armed conflict.
“The grotesque use of children in armed conflict is a battery of child right violations and has no place in 2021,” UNICEF South Sudan said in a statement on the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, marked globally on Feb. 12.
The day is “based on real experiences of children in South Sudan and is aimed at drawing attention to the psychological effects of being used by armed forces and armed groups,” the agency said.
“Children are forced to execute and witness atrocities. Children are killed, injured, maimed, and abused mentally and sexually. It is life-threatening and extremely damaging to children and their development and must end now,” read the statement.
Andrea Suley, the UNICEF representative in South Sudan, called for efforts to implement existing plans.
“It is with frustration and impatience in my voice I’m asking all armed entities to stop the recruitment and the use of children immediately,” she said.
“I’m calling upon the government of South Sudan to allocate funding for and start implementing the Action Plan against all the Six Grave Violations against Children in Armed Conflict, which was signed last year.”
She pointed out that there is still “very limited assistance available” for children who manage to escape or are released by the armed groups.
“After being released or escaping, children often struggle with nightmares, aggressive behavior, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety,” read the statement.
“Physical injuries can become lifelong disabilities if not attended to and mental wounds can cause long-term psychological effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
Suley said the mental health needs of children impacted by conflict are “often overlooked or not attended to as the fragile healthcare systems are struggling to handle the most basic healthcare needs.”
“Providing children who have already been through so much with the care and support they require to rebuild their lives should be an urgent priority,” she stressed.
“That means increased funding for existing programs, and an ambitious approach to scaling up mental healthcare more widely.”
Some 19,000 children are estimated to have been recruited by armed forces and armed groups in South Sudan, and UNICEF has supported the release and reintegration of 3,785 children since 2013, the statement said.