An armed group in South Sudan released 119 child soldiers on Tuesday, according to the United Nations Children’s fund UNICEF.
Forty eight of the children released by the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSLM) are girls and the youngest child is only 10 years old, UNICEF said.
“While this is an encouraging development, there is a long way to go before over 19,000 children still in their ranks are returned to their families,’’ said UNICEF executive director, Henrietta Fore.
Tuesday’s release, which coincides with the ‘International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers’ took place in the south-western town of Yambio and brings the total number of child soldiers freed from armed groups over the past six years to more than 3,100.
The children received fresh clothes, shoes and will be provided with three years of integration support to help them return to civilian life and prevent re-recruitment, according to UNICEF.
The agency added that many of the children had been kidnapped by militia groups, while others had joined due to economic hardship and social pressure.
Child soldiers are used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers and spies and are also subjected to sexual exploitation.
SSLM had signed a peace agreement with the government in 2016, UNICEF said.
South Sudan, which was founded in 2011, is the world’s youngest country.
In 2013, a political split between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar triggered a civil war that has led to tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of 2.5 million people.
Warring parties signed a peace deal in September 2018, which currently holds even though the ceasefire has already been broken by various groups.