The UK must redouble its efforts to end South Sudan's child soldier crisis

More than 19,000 children have been conscripted into various armed groups in conflict-ridden South Sudan.

International children’s charity, World Vision has urged the UK government to redouble its efforts to support peace in South Sudan and end its child soldier crisis.

The world’s newest nation is grappling with a worsening child soldier crisis as the country marks its seventh independence anniversary this week. Over 19,000 children have been conscripted into various armed groups in the conflict-ridden country, but the actual number could be even higher, World Vision experts warn.

Gavin Crowden, World Vision UK’s Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, said: “South Sudan is one of the countries with the highest rates of child soldiers in the world.

“The new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt took up the job on South Sudan’s seventh birthday – and the UK government has a leading and influential role in South Sudan. While we have hope that as South Sudan's leaders remain in dialogue, they will urgently arrive at a peaceful resolution to the crisis, we believe UK diplomacy can be key to that peace process. Now is the time for the UK to meet the South Sudanese leaders and offer the political guidance that leads to peace.

“This is an urgent matter as the plight of children in South Sudan is dire, with thousands getting conscripted into fighting forces as child soldiers. Experts place the figure of child soldiers at over 19, 000, but the true number could be higher as it’s difficult for our staff to establish the full extent, due to the complexities of this crisis,” he continued.

Warring sides have engaged in peace talks for years, but little progress has been made so far. Since the conflict erupted in 2013, parties have reached several ceasefire agreements, most of which have been subsequently broken.

Seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Of these, up to 60 per cent - or three in five - are internally displaced children.

The South Sudan war has also affected children who are not at risk of recruitment. The country, which already experienced widespread food insecurity and malnutrition, is now facing a hunger crisis due to the conflict. More than 1.1 million children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished.

World Vision is on the ground assisting children affected by the conflict, which has killed thousands and displaced millions. In February, the organisation – together with the U.N - helped coordinate the release of more than 300 children associated with armed groups in the country.

“It’s heart-breaking. These children are the future of South Sudan. They are the hope of this country,” said Mesfin Loha, World Vision’s Country Programme Director in South Sudan. “They must be allowed to live in peace without fear for their lives. They deserve the chance to go to school and grow in the loving care of their families and friends as they pursue their dreams,” he explained.

World Vision also provides psychological assistance to children who witnessed horrific violence, and, through a foster family system, it helps children who become separated from their families as they flee.

For more information on World Vision’s work in South Sudan, click here.