GENEVA, Switzerland, April 30 (UPI) -- UNICEF has reported more than 9,000 children are being used as child soldiers in South Sudan's conflict.
The recruitment of child soldiers, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday, is happening on "both sides" of the conflict, by rebels and government forces alike.
Peter Power, UNICEF Ireland's Executive Director, responded to reports of child soldiers in South Sudan, stating, "Under both international and South Sudanese national law, no person under the age of 18 should be allowed to participate in armed conflict. Any side in the conflict that uses children in armed conflict must be held accountable.”
UNICEF Representative in South Sudan Jonathan Veitch commented on the epidemic of child soldiers:
"This is fierce, brutal infantry fighting -- children must not be instruments of this conflict... We talk of the long term damage done to children who are recruited, but right now the immediate threat is to their life. Those in positions of command and leadership have a duty to keep children out of harm’s way and take all necessary measures to prevent children being part of armed groups and forces.”
Concerned about the brutal and continuing violence in South Sudan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dispatched Pillay to meet with the country's leaders in late April.
Speaking from Juba on Wednesday, Pillay said, "The deadly mix of recrimination, hate speech, and revenge killings that has developed relentlessly over the past four and a half months seems to be reaching boiling point, and I have been increasingly concerned that neither South Sudan’s political leaders nor the international community at large seem to perceive quite how dangerous the situation now is."
In her conversations with the country's leaders, Pillay observed that "instead of seizing their chance to steer their impoverished and war-battered young nation to stability and greater prosperity, have instead embarked on a personal power struggle that has brought their people to the verge of catastrophe."
With more than 9,000 children reportedly recruited into the conflict, attacks on health centers, rapes of women and girls, abductions, and killings, Pillay asked, "How much worse does it have to get, before those who can bring this conflict to an end, especially President Kiir and Dr. Machar, decided to do so?"
Violence broke out in South Sudan on December 15, 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his fired deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. Fighting between forces loyal to the two men has continued since December, with the political dispute devolving into an ethnic conflict. The UN estimates that more than 3.7 million people are also at risk of severe food insecurity, disease, and malnutrition as an effect of the violence.