Restored to Life

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After making peace with South Sudan’s government, a rebel group has released 280 child soldiers to the United Nations, with plans to remove 3,000 from its ranks.

UNICEF estimates as many as 12,000 South Sudanese children have been forcefully recruited into armed groups since war broke out in December 2013.

The initial release confirms that children indeed have been used in the brutal civil war, said Jackson Omona, World Vision's peace-building and protection expert in South Sudan.

“It also shows that the international community is watching,” said Jackson, speaking by phone from his office in the capital city, Juba. “It creates hope for thousands of children in this country that are still being held in these armed groups.”

From 2003 to 2005, Jackson oversaw efforts to rehabilitate about 1,500 children who had been forced into Joseph Kony’s infamous Lord’s Resistance Army. His team ran World Vision’s Children of War Center in Gulu, Uganda, which over two decades helped 15,000 children heal and reintegrate into their communities.

Jackson said he wasn’t surprised by the news of the South Sudanese child soldiers being released. When this one militia  struck a peace deal with South Sudan’s government, it was expected that children would be released at some point. However, the militia is only one of several that recruit and use child soldiers. A tentative peace agreement between the government and the major rebel group could lead to more child soldiers being freed.  

“It gives me hope that this one step will take this country to a place where children will feel safe in their own country,” he said. “Because for now, children don’t feel safe in their own country.”

World Vision does not currently work with former child soldiers in South Sudan. But staff members there have helped more than 500,000 people affected by the conflict, providing displaced children and families with clean water, emergency food, and household supplies; family tracing and reunification services; safe spaces for children to play, learn, and receive counseling; and livelihood assistance for longer-term stability.  

World Vision organizes sports activities to give youth living in displacement camps an outlet for their pent-up energies and frustrations. Study groups help them stay engaged while schools are closed.

Photo © 2015 Melany Markham/World Vision

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