South Sudan’s government is in the spotlight again after a report obtained by the Associated Press revealed that senior politicians allied to President Salva Kiir have been recruiting young boys into the army, according to Fox News.
In one incident, the South Sudanese government rounded up an entire village of boys, some as young as 12 years, and recruited them into the army through intimidation, according to the United Nations internal report.
The alleged recruitment comes a week after the United Nations Security Council agreed to send in an additional 4,000 troops to South Sudan following renewed fighting between government forces and rebels allied to runaway vice-president Riek Machar.
UNICEF has also reported the recruitment of at least 650 child soldiers in South Sudan during the past year. The organization further estimates that close to 16,000 South Sudanese children have joined armed groups since the civil war broke out in 2013.
“The dream we all shared for the children of this young country has become a nightmare,” UNICEF’s deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said in a statement.
Authorities in Denial
While denying any recent recruitment of child soldiers, South Sudanese army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said the youth who join the military do so voluntarily.
Anyone recruited to join an armed group while under the age of 18 is considered a child soldier; the International Criminal Court considers the recruitment of anyone below the age of 15 a war crime.
A former South Sudanese child soldier told Fox News that he thought he was recruited to do laundry and cooking in the army when he joined at age of 16, but he was forced to fight on the front line instead.
“If you go to the front line, two things would happen: either you will kill someone or you will be killed,” he said.
Machar in Congo
Weeks after South Sudanese first vice-president Riek Machar fled Juba in the wake of renewed fighting, the UN has reported that he is safe in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Riek Machar has been handed over to the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are not in a position to confirm his location,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq told the Guardian.
Dr. Riek Machar was the first vice-president of South Sudan before being dismissed in 2013 for allegedly planning to overthrow President Salva Kiir in a coup. His dismissal led to a civil war that lasted for two years until they formed a government of unity in April this year.
However, Machar was forced to flee Juba last month after his forces clashed with government forces, taking the country back into war.