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Liberation Army promises to release Sudanese child soldiers in two years

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Sudanese People's Liberation Army, or SPLA has renewed its commitment to release all child soldiers from its ranks within two years. In doing so, children will no longer constitute part of the country's militia groups.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The SPLA, the military wing of the South Sudanese political party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, is one of the few remaining militaries in the world on the United Nations' list of parties to conflict who recruit and use child soldiers.

The U.N. Children's Fund, or UNICEF estimates there are 2,000 child soldiers in South Sudan. The child soldiers are affiliated with militia groups that have earned amnesties from the government and are being integrated into the national military.

If the SPLA follows the action plan it has drafted and signed to remove all child soldiers, the country could be off the list in as soon as two years.

The process of reintegration of existing child soldiers could take much longer, as they enter schools or learn skills that will provide other opportunities for making a living outside army barracks.

According to Fatuma H. Ibrahim, the chief of UNICEF's child protection unit in South Sudan, by identifying and securing the formal release of all child soldiers, this will come even closer to reality. Child soldiers being processed out will be given civilian clothing, because "what is military remains with the military," she said.

The child soldiers, who can range in age from as young as 12 up to 18, will also undergo some group therapy sessions with social workers to try to understand how they came to join the militias and to talk about any violence they may have encountered.

She said there will be about one percent who "really need some clinical management," though their options will be limited in a country with few psychiatric resources. "It's a very big problem. Most receive tablets, but that's it."

Families will also meet with social workers to discuss reintegration and ensure that the children will be welcomed back and discouraged from re-joining.

"The parents have to be ready to receive them," Ibrahim says. In some communities in South Sudan that includes a symbolic transition ceremony.

The military is often one of the few viable economic opportunities for young men in Sudan. Many of the children UNICEF and its partners remove from the ranks followed that pattern.

One of UNICEF's big challenges is providing opportunities that deter the delisted child soldiers from going back. After the new release rounds take place, the children will be given an opportunity to choose between going to school, which many of the younger ones will opt for, and learning a trade.

Sudan's limited job market means older youth are encouraged to learn skills like carpentry, which is in increasing demand in rapidly growing towns. In the future, they will be trained in two skills, in case the first one does not prove marketable.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.


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