South Sudan’s government is recruiting child soldiers in the past week to prepare for a renewed conflict, according to an internal United Nations document.
The document, seen by the Associated Press, says a senior politician appointed by President Salva Kiir led the recruitment of an entire village of boys as young as 12 using intimidation. One boy told a UN investigator: ‘I was not happy because I was given a gun when I was so young (but) if you are afraid, the commander will beat you.’UNICEF also said today at least 650 children have joined armed groups in South Sudan this year alone.
Armed groups in South Sudan often coerce children to join their ranks by threatening to confiscate their family’s cattle, a key source of wealth and status in a largely pastoral society.
Tens of thousands of people in South Sudan’s civil war and, despite a ceasefire last month, tensions are rising again after President Kiir removed Machar as Vice President. UNICEF said around 16,000 child soldiers have been recruited since civil war began in December 2013.Army spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang said youths who join the military are not forced. He said he was not aware of the recent recruitment of children.
South Sudan’s military and opposition forces have made repeated promises to address allegations of child recruitment, but both sides have continued recruiting since July’s outbreak of violence, according to Justin Forsyth, UNICEF’s deputy executive director.’They believe they can easily control and manipulate young minds,’ Forsyth said. The children then ‘can commit atrocities, and they will do what they are told.’
Child soldiers are defined as anyone recruited to join armed groups under the age of 18, and the International Criminal Court considers the recruitment of those under 15 to be a war crime.In an interview this month in Unity state, one former child soldier said he had expected to do cooking and cleaning in the army when he joined at age 16 but instead was sent to fight on the front lines.