The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says up to 16,000 children have been forcibly recruited by both rebel forces and the army in South Sudan since a brutal civil war broke out in the landlocked African country in 2013.
“There are now 16,000 children associated with armed groups and the military,” UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in the Swiss city of Geneva on Friday, adding that some minors have been forced into direct armed combat, while others are serving as messengers or porters in very dangerous circumstances.
Boulierac also warned that children were kidnapped, killed and subjected to sexual violence in the violence-wracked African state.
Despite the signing of a recent peace deal between South Sudan’s rebels and army forces, “there has been little sign of improvement,” the UNICEF spokesman said.
On August 26, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signed the peace accord, which had already been signed by Riek Machar, the current rebel leader and former vice president.
The ceasefire came into effect on August 29 following months of on-off talks, hosted by Ethiopia sides, but the truce has far failed to stop the deadly fighting in South Sudan. Among other things, the peace deal urges both conflicting sides to stop fighting and release all child soldiers and prisoners of war.
South Sudan plunged into chaos in December 2013, when fighting erupted around the capital city of Juba between troops loyal to Kiir and defectors led by Machar.
Violence has reportedly forced 2.3 million people from their homes and left 4.6 million others in need of emergency food aid. Approximately 1,500 children have also been killed while 900,000 others have been internally displaced in South Sudan, according to UNICEF.