UNICEF Signs Agreement on Child Soldiers in Sudan

20/7/2010 - UNICEF and the Justice and Equality Movement have signed a deal to end the use of child soldiers in armed conflict.

The Darfurian Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the United Nations’ children’s agency (UNICEF) announced yesterday that they will sign an agreement to end the use of child soldiers in the ongoing conflict in the western Darfur region of Sudan.

As of 2008, UNICEF reported that there were likely as many as 6 000 child soldiers living in Sudan. They are mostly boys between the ages of 11 and 17.

“This is a very important and positive step. It is the result of more than a year's worth of dialogue between the U.N. agencies and JEM,” said Dennis McNamara, advisor to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), which sponsored the dialogue.

“The signing of this agreement does not mean that JEM has recruited child soldiers. This is not true,” said a spokesperson for the JEM. It is more a promise of “good faith” he finished.

The agreement will also cover larger issues of child welfare, such as education.

True to the spirit of its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the CHD is a neutral organization that works to end armed conflict all over the world through diplomacy, dialogue and mediation. It is active across Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In other news, high-profile Sudanese rapper (and former child soldier) Emmanual Jal was in China this week. Jal spoke of the three months he spent avoiding recruitment when he was only 12 years old. He remembers that even the food he sought for food—small animals and the like—were dying of thirst and starvation.

All before he was seven years old, Jal was orphaned when his mother was killed, his aunt raped before his eyes and his village burned to the ground. By the age of seven, he was recruited into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
Jal was rescued by aid workers, but many were not so lucky. Like him, they were known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” The conflict in Darfur, Sudan, has left about 2.7 million people homeless, forced to flee their homes. Between 200 000 to 300 000 are estimated to have lost their lives.

UNICEF’s country-level direction for Sudan, Nils Kastberg, hopes that the signing of the agreement will set the standard for dealing with the use of children in armed combat in the future. Like Kastberg, let’s hope that the actions of UNICEF and the JEM signifies a move in a safer direction for children in Sudan.