Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

South Sudan: Child Soldier recruitment undermines unity government

Article from AFRIC Editorial
In times of emergencies, concerns are usually directed to women and children. This is because these classes of people are the most exposed and vulnerable when a nation is passing through a tumultuous or turbulent moment. As clearly defined by the Convention on the Rights of Children, Children in the military fall under the age of 18, who are either associated with government forces or other non-state armed factions. By this definition, it shows that so many children below the said age in countries at war, who become vulnerable, either voluntarily join the armed groups or are forcefully recruited by the hooligans. This is what the UN and other rights activists are decrying. A case in time is South Sudan, which has seen many children recruited as child soldiers since the political squabbles between rival politicians erupted some years ago.

As the November deadline for a unity government in South Sudan approaches, there are concerns over a growing number or an upsurge in child soldier recruitment in the world’s youngest nation, which has remained restive despite numerous peace attempts.

Child Soldier recruitment on the rise in restive South Sudan

A September report by the United Nations investigation team in South Sudan revealed that there is an increase in the number of children forcefully recruited as child soldiers. According to this investigation team, there are chances the fragile nation may further descend into a full-scale civil war. The September 16, 2019, United Nations report was published barely two months ahead of the November deadline for the creation of a government of National Accord championed by incumbent President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar.

Even though thousands of child soldiers were released after the 2018 peace deal between the warring parties, the head of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, underlined that investigators have in recent times noticed a non-respect of the deal by both the government of President Salva Kiir and the opposition led by his onetime political ally Riek Machar. Both parties tried to boost the strength and numbers of their forces to combat each other on the battlefield. Mrs. Sooka emphasized: “Ironically, the prospect of a peace deal has accelerated the forced recruitment of children, with various groups now seeking to boost their numbers before they move into the cantonment sites.  The UN Human Rights Official was speaking to the UN Human Rights Council after a courtesy visit to the troubled nation in August 2019. The UN body lamented the fact that these children especially girls are often sexually exploited, sodomized by the so-called members of the armed gangs, a situation indeed disheartening, because the children just have to accede due to their vulnerability.

Previous Peace Attempts fail to end the crisis

Like any other nation at war, there have been numerous internal and external attempts to arrest the flare-up in South Sudan. However, these attempts have remained futile as they have not succeeded in killing the war in the country. In August 2015, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar initialled the first peace agreement two years after the war broke out in the country. Let by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), comprising of nations like Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda), it was the very first attempt to quell the political tension between Kiir and Machar. Machar was reinstated as Vice President and returned to Juba in 2016, but, it did not stop the fighting despite the peace deal and international threats of imposing an arms embargo on the nation. Ever since then, minor peace accords, pressure from the UN Security Council, African Union, among others have failed to materialize.  Attacks continued on both sides.

The 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement

The resurgence of civil war or major attacks between rival factions in South Sudan after the 2015 peace deal, was a blow to the commendable efforts by stakeholders to stop the war. However, its failure did not derail the quest to look for lasting solutions. On September 12, 2018, main actors including President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar in the presence of IGAD authorities initialled a revitalized peace deal for the resolution of conflicts in South Sudan in Addis Ababa, Capital city of Ethiopia. As spelt out in the deal, President Kiir and then Vice President turned rebel leader Riek Machar had to form a government of national accord by November 2019, send back military into their barracks, reintegrate former rebels among others. Even though some pundits questioned the practicality of the deal, IGAD and other neighbouring nations widely extolled the new attempt to stop the war, which according to them paved a way for a new era in South Sudan. On the formation of a unity government, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar have up to November 12 this year to create a unity government that will lead the nation to hold a democratic election.

However, as the deadline approaches, Kiir and Machar have not yet convinced the world of their willingness to work together, despite several meetings in Juba. President Salva Kiir recently warned that he would push through with the creation of the government of national unity if SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar does not return to Juba by November 2019. The Opposition, however, slammed this statement saying It would undermine the terms of the revitalized agreement. In the meantime, the UN’s mission chief in South Sudan, David Shearer has challenged the two rivals to respect the November deadline of forming a unity government, even before tackling security and regional boundaries issues.

According to the UN, since war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, some 400.000 people have died, thousands have been displaced and there has been hunger and starvation, crumbling economy. Many South Sudanese have remained refugees in neighbouring countries like Uganda and elsewhere. It has remained difficult to explain why South Sudan is still in chaos despite tremendous efforts by both local and international bodies to arrest it. However, critics have said that the moment when Salva Kiir and Riek Machar will order their forces to drop their guns, compromise their political differences, will be the end of the civil war rocking the nation. Putting the people in front of their political aspiration is a way forward for a new dawn in the country.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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