Clan chiefs implicated in recruitment of child soldiers in South Sudan conflict

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Demobilized child soldiers in the village of Gumuruk, Jonglei State, South Sudan. Photo: UNICEF/Mariantonietta Peru

The recruitment of thousands of child soldiers is just one of the grave problems facing people in South Sudan 15 months since conflict erupted there, the UN children's agency said Friday.

In the past month alone, UNICEF said it had received credible and verifiable information that forces aligned with the warring government and opposition parties had "abducted or coerced hundreds of children".

On top of the issue of child recruitment, the UN agency says that seven in 10 schools are closed in conflict areas, while more than 200,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Daniel Johnson has more:

As fighting between government and opposition forces passes the 15-month mark in South Sudan, UNICEF says the outlook is "dire".

More than 800,000 people are displaced within the country, it says, while another 344,000 have sought shelter across the border.

UNICEF representative Jonathan Veitch says the situation isn't about to improve as fighting flares up in different areas.

And UN teams on the ground have reported "a strong upsurge" in recruitment of child soldiers, he told reporters in Geneva:

"It's increasingly desperate for boy children in many areas of the conflict zone. They are being targeted; they are being rounded up and sent to the front line. This is happening as I speak."

UNICEF says clan chiefs hand over children to armed groups while soldiers take children and young adults in their homes.

In total, 12,000 children are believed to have been recruited by all sides to the conflict.

The situation is worst in Upper Nile and Unity states – with hundreds of children taken from one village alone.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

Duration: 1'01"

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