Commitment to a 'zero-child army' trumps differences during Juba conference.

 
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Although the converging of warring factions is normally not a good sign, a recent conference in Juba proved to be a significant exception when government and opposition forces met to discuss a matter that has been ravaging South Sudan for many, many years: the all too common presence of children in military ranks.

'A child is not a soldier,' affirmed Peter Alberto, chief of child protection for the opposition forces, adding that boys and girls should live at home and go to school.

Mr. Alberto's sentiments were echoed by some 50 other senior officers in attendance at the three-day conference spearheaded by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan's (UNMISS) Child Protection Unit and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which aimed to speed up efforts to make a 'zero-child army' a reality.

While of utmost importance, achieving this goal won't be easy. Near-chronic instability and insecurity brought on by years of inter-communal fighting, has forced many youngsters into the grips of armed groups as a way to escape poverty or to protect themselves from violence.

'Children need to be dissuaded from joining the military and should instead be motivated to be at school. The government needs to take more responsibility for the youth because they are the backbone of this country,' said Andrew Oluku, an officer with the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Committee, one of the mechanisms borne out of past...

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