UNICEF and partners have secured the freedom of 3,000 child soldiers in South Sudan — one of the largest ever releases of children from armed forces. In a series of ceremonies, they are laying down their weapons and walking away from lives of conflict.
Some have been fighting for the last four years, many have never attended school and all of them have been forced to see and do things no child should ever experience.
On the eve of their release, five boys told us about their lives as soldiers and their dreams of new beginnings.
All names have been changed to protect the children’s identities.
James John, 13
"Our enemies killed my sister, my uncle and other family members. So I joined the Cobra Faction. But life in Cobra is not good — we have to walk so much, sometimes three or four days, carrying heavy equipment.
I really want to go to school now. I have never been to school, and after I finish school, I want to help the people in my community — to help them get food. If I had children, I would never let them be soldiers."
Paul Steven, 12
“I joined the Cobra Faction three years ago. There was nothing here for us in Pibor — no roads or hospitals or schools. Sometimes there was food. But life in the Faction is not good. There is no rest. The commanders are always ordering us to go out on missions. We are moving all the time. Even when we children get tired, there is no rest. Now I want to go to school. I have never been to school.”
"I have spent one year with the Faction. I have not done any fighting with the enemy, but I practised shooting trees. When there were serious missions, they wouldn’t let me join because I’m too young. They said only big people go on serious missions.”
"There was so much suffering in our community. Our people rebelled against the Government, and I decided I would join them. Anyway, I was not in school, and we had no money. I was very young. But now I want to go to school and learn to read.”
“I don’t want to be a soldier. I will end up with nothing by being a soldier, and I know one day I’ll get killed if I continue being a soldier. I want first to go to school; then, later, I want to study medicine.”
Boys swim in Upper Nile State (child soldiers not pictured). © UNICEF/NYHQ2012–1424/Sokol
UNICEF is reuniting these children with their families, providing their immediate necessities and supporting the counselling and education they’ll need to start life again, in peace.
Helping to create a future for these children will not happen all at once, it will take years and UNICEF is in it for the long run. Our support will continue for a minimum of 18 months to 2 years.
At the heart of these children’s reintegration is their return to school. We’ll support them through the process, so education and their classmates can be a source of strength as they move forward with their lives.