South Sudan has been singled out as the country with the highest number of child soldiers in Africa. According to the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), the African Union’s (AU) main security body, armed groups and terrorist organizations in South Sudan and across the continent continue to utilize children in armed conflicts.
AUPSC recently stated that these actions violate existing continental child protection instruments, particularly the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The security body stated that it is determined to effectively prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict situations on the Continent.
Even though thousands of child soldiers have been rescued from the battlefield as part of the ongoing disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program, which is mandated by the September 2018 peace agreement, the efforts have not been enough.
According to a United Nations Children Fund report, West and Central Africa have the highest global rate of children under 18 years old being recruited by armed organizations. Over 21,000 children had been recruited by armed organizations and the government over the previous five years.
Since 2016, more than 2,200 children in central Africa have experienced sexual assault, and more than 3,500 have been abducted, making it the region with the second-highest number of abductions worldwide.
The AUPSC communiqué denounced armed groups and terrorist organizations in South Sudan and other African countries for continuing to recruit and use children in their operations. The security organ stated that “We urge them to fully respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as to respect and maintain the civilian and humanitarian character of education centers, refugee and IDP camps, and to immediately stop targeting and using schools and refugee and IDP camps as recruitment centers.”
The AUPSC encourages member states to address all the issues, such as underdevelopment, extreme poverty, youth unemployment, climate change, child abuse, and marginalization of particular regions of the continent, that contribute to the ongoing recruitment and use of children in conflict situations.
According to Bankole Adeoye, the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security and Co-Chair of the Africa Platform on Children Affected by Armed Conflicts, the impact of armed conflict on millions of boys and girls in Africa is terrible and intolerable.
Adeoye stated that “We should all be aware of our shared obligation to shield all children from the horrors of war, and now is the time to confront and prevent breaches of children’s rights in conflict-affected nations.”
The AUPSC requested that the Moussa Faki Mahamat-led AU Commission conduct research on the precise effects of terrorism on children and submit the study’s findings as soon as possible for the Council to consider.
Analysts and policymakers across the continent have called for the strengthening of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and all other relevant regional mechanisms for the protection of children in times of conflict.
The AU commission must also explore different options of cooperation with all pertinent stakeholders and have a dialogue with them. The permanent solution to the crisis of child soldiers is to reduce the number of conflicts in the region.