3:21 pm - Sunday March 29, 2015

HRW: Kiir, Machar Recruiting Children for War

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Child soldiers are being used in the South Sudan war, according to Human rights Watch (Internet photo)
Child soldiers are being used in the South Sudan war, according to Human rights Watch (Internet photo)

The International human rights body, Human Rights watch has accused the government of South Sudan under President Salva Kiir and rebels led  by Dr Riek Machar of recruiting young children including those of 13 years to fight in the bloody war.

In a report released on Monday titled “South Sudan: Government Forces Recruiting Child Soldiers”, revealed that the rebels commanded by former Vice President, Dr Riek recruited children in Upper Nile state mentioning UNICEF reports.

Both parties to South Sudan’s conflict have recruited and used child soldiers, which is a war crime when children are under 15, the group said, adding, Commanders from both the government and the opposition should issue clear orders barring recruitment of all children under 18 and cooperate with relevant United Nations agencies to help these children return to places of safety.

“Despite renewed promises by both government and opposition forces that they will stop using child soldiers, both sides continue to recruit and use children in combat,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“In Malakal, government forces are even taking children from right outside the United Nations compound.”

Government recently denied charges of recruiting minors into the army.

The body also noted that opposition forces have also recruited and used many child soldiers.

Over the past months Human Rights Watch says it has spoken to about a dozen children or young men who were under 18 years of age when they fought in 2014, who have been used by opposition forces in battles and for other purposes such as cooking and carrying water and ammunition.

One 16-year-old in Bentiu described his terror when, only a day after being recruited with dozens of others in December 2013, he was given a gun for the first time by a rebel commander and forced to fight.

Human Rights Watch, on a visit to Malakal in late January 2015, collected about 25 accounts of child recruitment in the area from parents and other relatives, from children who had escaped recruitment or whose friends had been recruited, and from young adults who had also been forcibly recruited together with children.

During the visit to Malakal, Human Rights Watch says it found that government forces, apparently especially those led by the former militia leader Johnson Olony, had recruited at least 15 children, some forcibly, within recent weeks, as part of recruitment efforts that appear mainly to be targeting adults.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which became South Sudan’s national army when the country became independent from Sudan in 2011, had made progress in ending its longtime practice of using child soldiers.

In August 2013, the SPLA issued a general order forbidding the recruitment or use of children under 18 for any purpose within its operations.

When the current armed conflict broke out in December 2013, however, child recruitment resumed.

HRW said both the government forces led by President Salva Kiir, and the opposition forces led by Riek Machar, the former vice president and now the opposition leader, have recruited and deployed children in their forces.

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has said that thousands of children have already fought in the war on both sides. A recent UN report said that the use and recruitment of 561 children had been documented by UN child protection actors since the beginning of the conflict.

In some cases in Malakal, children voluntarily left the UN “protection of civilian (POC)” site to join forces led by Olony, a former militia leader from Upper Nile state who is currently fighting with South Sudan’s government. One mother said that both her sons, one 13 and one 14, had voluntarily joined Olony in late December 2014. Another mother followed her 13-year-old son to a military barracks after he left the UN base. “He refused to come home,” she said.

But some of the children were forcibly recruited near the UN base, where approximately 20,000 people are currently taking shelter. Since the conflict spread to Malakal in early 2014, the town has changed hands six times as government and opposition forces clashed, sometimes very close to the UN base.

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