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An Ongoing Nightmare for Children Worldwide

Alejandra Ureta

Since the beginning of the civil war, conflict in South Sudan has been ongoing and the country has become an international focus due to the atrocities and human rights violations being committed. In 2015 the United Nations verified 159 incidents of recruitment and use of child soldiers, affecting 2,596 children, a sharp increase compared with 2014. In South Sudan girls make up an estimated 10 to 30 percent of child soldiers and are especially vulnerable when it comes to sexual violence. 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 this pastoral society. According to an internal United Nations document obtained by The Associated Press, a senior politician appointed by South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, led the recruitment of an entire village of boys, some as young as 12 years old, using intimidation. It was not clear how many children were involved.

In 2013, the UN launched an effort to end child soldiers by 2016. Despite a government agreement in the District of Chad to demobilize the recruitment of child soldiers, there were between 7,000 and 10,000 children under 18 serving in combat and fulfilling other purposes in 2007. In addition to this, President Bush signed the ‘Child Soldiers Prevention Act’ (CSPA) in 2008, which bans the United States from providing military assistance or arms sales to governments that use children in combat. However, the ban has not ben efficient since a “national interest waiver” allows the president to bypass the law if it is deemed in the U.S. national interest to do so, and therefore many countries who have been found to recruit child soldiers continue to receive military aid from the US.

On February 12, 2002 the UN General Assembly established an international ‘Red Hand Day,’ recognizing the hardships of child soldiers. This day aims to bring attention to the thousands of children who have been, and continue to be, kidnapped and forced to fight. On this day people all over the world stand in solidarity with all those who have taken a stand against the global atrocity of children in armed conflict and remind themselves of their commitment to the ideal that no child, anywhere in the world, should be abducted or killed. Although human trafficking and child soldiers continue being extremely pending issues on the United Nations Security Council agenda, significant progress has been made in the effort to end the recruitment of children as soldiers. UNICEF oversaw the release of 1,775 former child soldiers in 2015 in what was one of the largest demobilizations of children in history.

In August 2015, UNICEF and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) facilitated the release of 163 children, including 5 girls, by an armed group in the Central African Republic. Three months earlier 357 children were released following an agreement between the country’s 10-armed groups to release all children from their ranks. Furthermore, in October 2016 UNICEF announced that 145 child soldiers fighting for two rebel groups in South Sudan were rescued. Today the number of countries using child soldiers is down to about 12 and the international community is working together to ensure that this value continues decreasing.

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