More than 300 children, 87 of them girls, were released by armed groups in South Sudan today, beginning a process that is expected to see at least 700 children freed in the coming weeks.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and forced millions of others to seek refuge in neighboring countries.
During the release ceremony, the children were formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes.
The 311 children, including 87 girls, will now begin reintegrating into their communities, the United Nations mission in the country (UNMISS) said in a statement on Wednesday. While the country backs the Convention on the Rights of the Child, stating that warring parties should refrain from recruiting children, the reality on the ground can look different.
"They will have endured suffering, including sexual abuse".
"This is the first time so many young women have been involved in a release like this in South Sudan", said David Shearer, the UN's secretary general's special representative and head of UNMISS.
According to the United Nations mission's research, the South Sudan Liberation Movement had recruited 563 children, while some 137 were associated with the Sudan People's Liberation Army In-Opposition.
REUTERS Siegfried Modola More Than 1Mln Children Flee Ongoing Violence in South Sudan- UN Refugee Agency
The released children will be reunified with their families and given three months' worth of food assistance and psychosocial support, along with the opportunity to go to school.
Additionally, 96 children were released from the ranks of the Sudan People's Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO). "Many joined armed groups because they feel they had no other option", said Mdoe.
An additional 389 children remain in the program, still undergoing rehabilitation.
A 2015 peace agreement to end the violence was violated in July 2016 when the rival factions resumed fighting in the capital, forcing Machar to flee into exile.
Unicef estimates that an estimated 19,000 children continue to serve as child soldiers, more than four years after the civil war broke out in December 2013.
"They told me to go near the road and if I heard the sound of a vehicle coming, I went and reported it". In the past, nearly 2,000 child soldiers have been rehabilitated and released - more than 10 percent of whom were under 13 years old. Then they would come and take the auto.
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