UNICEF officials, parents, and local and military leaders celebrated the demobilization of 250 youngsters from armed forces and groups in Southern Sudan last week. The release was the largest of its kind since a peace accord ended two decades of civil war in January 2005, and committed the two sides to child demobilization throughout the country.
The children handed over their weapons and uniforms in a ceremony and received a set of second-hand clothes along with textbooks from the local school.
Since 2001, an estimated 20,000 children from the former southern rebel forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA), have been disarmed, demobilized and returned to their families and communities with UNICEF support….
One of the mothers at the ceremony is a soldier herself. “I love this day because it is a symbol of peace,” she said. “My daughter Sarah will have a different life than me, a better chance. Maybe now there will not be so much death."
A father wished for a better education for his two sons, 11 and 12. "Now that our children have been removed from the army, I only ask that you help them go to school and change their minds from the military way of thinking."
Over the coming days, UNICEF will complete distribution of additional school supplies like pencils, chalk and exercise books all over the region with the logistics assistance of other UN agencies and peacekeepers.
There are still an estimated 2,000 children mobilized with the SPLA, mainly in non-combat roles and in hard-to-reach areas, including girls. UNICEF Sudan is seeking $16.5 million to support child demobilization and reintegration throughout Africa’s largest country but so far only $2.5 million has been received or pledged for 2006. More funding would support a wid range of programmes for the children like education, health, clean water, sanitation and hygiene. Vistit their web site for more info on their funding shortage, and click on the donate now button to help.