Child Soldiers' Recruitment and Trafficking Persist in South Sudan Despite Commitment To Action Plans
By BANDAK LUL
"The report indicates that in 2019, the government of South Sudan put in place a policy or pattern of employing or recruiting child soldiers, which government security and law enforcement officers continued to recruit and use child soldiers, at times by force, and did not hold any members of the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) or South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) criminally accountable for these unlawful acts."
|Photo courtesy of Author's Facebook account|
In June 2020, the released the , which annually develops a ranking system that divides countries into 3 tiers based on governments’ efforts to fight human trafficking. In the Tier 3 category, countries not fully meeting or making significant efforts to meet the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000’s (TVPA) minimum standards risk restrictions and the loss of U.S. civilian aid worth tens of millions of dollars. Additionally, governments identified on the 2020 Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) list are subjected to restrictions on certain security assistance and commercial licensing of military equipment, and assistance to governments in the areas International Military Education and Training, Foreign Military Financing, Excess Defense Articles, and Peacekeeping Operations.
(U.S. State Department)
The United States has placed South Sudan on Tier 3 Watch List (again) and on the CSPA because it does not fully meet the minimum standards of the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The report indicates that in 2019, the government of South Sudan put in place a policy or pattern of employing or recruiting child soldiers, which government security and law enforcement officers continued to recruit and use child soldiers, at times by force, and did not hold any members of the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) or South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) criminally accountable for these unlawful acts. Furthermore, authorities did not report investigating or prosecuting any forced labor or sex trafficking crimes for the eighth consecutive year, since South Sudan gained its independence in 2011. Therefore, the U.S. Department of State ruled negligible efforts by the government of South Sudan to proactively identify and protect trafficking victims separate from smuggling clients, continuously arresting and imprisoning child sex trafficking victims, and continuing to indiscriminately arrest and imprisoning individuals for prostitution violations without screening for indicators of exploitation.
(U.S. State Department)
The report stated that the government of South Sudan and opposition-affiliated forces have recruited more than 19,000 child soldiers since the start of the conflict in 2013, and armed groups continued to recruit and use children during the 2020 reporting period. As of February 2020, there were between 7,000 and 19,000 minors in combat roles within South Sudan. The SSPDF and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) failed to implement the recommitted action plans for child soldier demobilization and reintegration. The report further stated that children are recruited by government forces, including SSNPS to fight and perpetrate violence against other children and civilians; to serve as scouts, escorts, cooks, and cleaners; or to carry heavy loads while on the move.
The U.S. Department of State has prioritized recommendations for South Sudan, urging cessation of all recruitment and use of children by government forces and associated militias, and immediately release all child soldiers under the command or influence of government forces and affiliated militias and, in partnership with international organizations, transfer them to appropriate civilian rehabilitation and reintegration programs.
South Sudan is among countries in the 2020 TIP Report that are not Party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
Bandak Lul is a refugee advocate and human rights activist. He is a research project manager at Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research. He may be reached at email@example.com