2 May 2012 – As the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) released 29 children from its ranks today in Unity State, a state official noted that hunger was a leading reason for young people to sign up.
“Children join the army because of poverty … and (because) some are orphans. Getting food is very difficult,” said George Gatloi Konag, head of the Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) Commission in the state.
He added that the presence of militia groups in the state had also increased rates of children joining the armed forces.
“I joined the army because there was nobody to take care of me at home,” said 14-year-old Tot Matai Gatmai, who enlisted after his father was killed in fighting between northern and southern Sudan, and his mother disappeared.
The children were demobilized in Pakur Payam, Koch County, a base of former rebel leader Gatluak Gai before he was killed in 2011.
With assistance from UNMISS, they were transported to an Interim Care Centre in the state capital Bentiu.
Mr. Konag said the children would remain at the centre while the commission and its partners, including UNMISS and UNICEF, traced their parents and relatives.
The children were expected to reunite with their families by the end of the month.
UNICEF, along with Vétérinaires Sans Frontierés (SWISS-VSF), is also providing resources to support the children reintegrate into their communities.
“One child is going to (receive) five female goats to (take) home,” said Mr. Konag.
He asked the government and international community to provide more support to ensure the children would not return to army barracks.
South Sudan made a commitment to release all children from its ranks in an action plan the SPLA signed with the United Nations in March 2012.