Another 200 children were released by armed groups in South Sudan this week, bringing the total of such releases to 806 this year.
They freed fighters came primarily from the SPLA-IO opposition group, with eight of them associated with the National Salvation Front (NSF).
“Every a time a child is released and able to return to their family, it’s a source of great hope – hope for their future and for the future of the country,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan.
“We also hope there will be many more of these events until there are no longer any children in the ranks of armed groups.”
Thursday’s ceremony for the released child soldiers at Pibor saw them formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes. They’ll also receive medical care and psychological support through a reintegration program, along with vocational training once they’re reunited with their families.
It was the third such ceremony this year, with two previous groups released in the town of Yambio. Additional releases are expected in the coming months that could result in more than 1,000 children being freed, UNICEF said.
“Today is the start of the long journey of reintegration for these children and they will need a lot of support along the way,” Mdoe said.
An estimated 19,000 children continue to serve in the ranks of armed forces and groups in South Sudan, UNICEF said. More than 2,600 have been returned to date.