The release of 145 child soldiers was successful through negotiations with UNICEF, the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission, and the armed groups.
Cobra Faction, an armed resistance against the government of South Sudan, and SPLA/IO, or Sudan’s Peoples Liberation Army - In Opposition, the main armed opposition rebel faction released the children.
We landed at about 0930. Just before the landing, large crowds made their way to the landing strip, which looked like a long, and dry clay football field with no grass. Most of the region is the same. For our visit, we drove through a bushy road, and ended up in Tenet, a remote area with no development.
The children were of all sizes in height. Some holding guns, and others without guns, some barefoot, and some in uniform. Some kids also looked excited, that is if one were able to differentiate, and looked past their hungry faces, and stoic demeanor. Maybe, the glimmer was because they knew they were going to be released.
UNICEF estimates 16,000 children are fighting or working with armed groups in South Sudan, including the national army, with more than 800 kids recruited this year alone.
In 2015, UNICEF and its child protection unit, assisted in the release of 1,775 children from the same region.
The released kids are disarmed, given civilian clothes and drafted into a reintegration program. They will receive counseling, and efforts will be made to trace their families, so they can be reunited.
Recruitment of child soldiers is a violation of international law. These images show the kids during the occasion of their release.