South Sudan flag
South Sudan

The government of South Sudan is recruiting children as young as 13 to help fight rebels in the country’s civil conflict, despite having vowed to no longer do so, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

South Sudan flag
South Sudan flag

The rights group collected 25 witness accounts of child recruitment in the northern town of Malakal in January. Government forces had recruited at least 15 minors within a few weeks, according to HRW.

Some unemployed boys joined the troops voluntarily, while others were recruited forcibly.

An army spokesman was unavailable for comment.

“Despite renewed promises by both government and opposition forces that they will stop using child soldiers, both sides continue to recruit and use children in combat,” HRW Africa director Daniel Bekele said.

“In Malakal, government forces are even taking children from right outside the United Nations compound,” he added.

“My son … was captured by the army in Malakal town. I don’t know where he was captured, he was going to go and see his family and was taken on the way,” one mother told HRW.

The United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, has estimated that thousands of children have fought on both sides during the 14-month-old conflict, which pits forces loyal to President Salva Kiir against his former deputy, Riek Machar.

The power struggle has killed tens of thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people.


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