When civil war broke out in South Sudan, women and children were some of the worst affected. Education was disrupted for tens of thousands of children as they fled for their lives. Many were separated from their parents and recruited into armed forces and groups themselves.
Following the 2018 peace deal, the world’s youngest country is beginning the slow but sure path to recovery.
Protecting child rights is a key aspect that the Government of South Sudan and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) are collaborating on as part of the nation’s bid to establish itself as a true democracy with a spotless human rights record.
A major step forward was the signing of the comprehensive action plan to end and prevent all grave violations against children by all parties to the conflict in February 2020.
Recently in Mundri, Western Equatoria, the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Child Protection Unit, brought together key stakeholders, including organized forces, traditional leaders, civil society, youths, women, and county authorities from Mundri and Mvolo counties.
Fifty participants from each county attended this much-needed outreach.
“My main takeaway is that to transform our society, we must accept our individual responsibility to drive positive change among our communities. We should trickle down the message that children are our future and must be protected, especially during conflict,” said Margaret Fozia Emmanuel, Commissioner, Mundri East.
Children’s rights include the right to health, education, family life, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living and protection from abuse and harm.
“These are some of the fundamental child rights that all law enforcers and stakeholders should collectively uphold, while making sure that any violation of these rights is punished,” she added.
For Sylvano Abiaza, a civil society representative in Mvolo, the workshop has provided clarity to participants, when it comes to protecting children. “It is up to us, as communities from Mvolo, to improve the lives of our children,” he emphasized simply yet eloquently.
For his part, Zacharia Kozo, paramount chief of Mvolo, spoke about the vital role played by traditional leaders in sensitizing community members on key child protection interventions. “It is everybody’s responsibility to make sure our children do not suffer anymore and I urge all participants to take this training seriously,” he averred.
UNMISS continues to implement its mandate in all the ten Counties of Western Equatoria State with focus on peacebuilding and equipping the local community with skills that instill respect of human rights.
The long-term objective when it comes to such advocacy is to protect and prevent the occurrence of grave violations against children perpetrated by armed forces and groups. This would ensure that South Sudanese armed groups will, finally, be removed from what is known as the list of shame. The list being referred to is part of the UN Secretary-General’s report on the situation of children in armed conflict and contains national armies and other military groups known to violate one or more of the six grave violations.
These consist of the recruitment and use of children, killing and maiming, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, abductions, and the denial of humanitarian access to children in need.
Some progress towards this end has already been achieved: By adopting the comprehensive action plan to stamp out violations of the rights of these children, both the South Sudan’s People Defense Forces and the main opposition force have been moved from Section A to Section B of the Secretary-General’s annual report, in recognition of the country’s efforts to implement the action plan and commit to ending grave child rights violations.
Mtungama Harriet, Child Protection Officer, UNMISS, explains that this workshop is part of ongoing efforts by the UN Peacekeeping mission across all 10 states.
“The children of South Sudan have suffered immensely. They need all the support they can get, have every chance to complete their education and forge a bright future for themselves. We are obligated to ensure we do everything in our power to make this happen,” she stated.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).