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Source: Radio Tamazuj

The United Nations estimates that there are over 9000 child soldiers fighting on both sides of South Sudan’s civil war.

In a story published by Al Jazeera, some of these young combatants and their families spoke about their experiences.

“Matthew,” a 16-year-old student, was forced to be a child soldier by the SPLA-In Opposition.  He said that rebel soldiers came to his school and ordered 300 students to join their fight, threatening to kill his family and take their cows if he did not comply.

“They took us up north for military training, close to the border with Sudan. I learned how to march, to find cover and shoot,” Matthew said.

During the training he escaped to a UN camp where he lives without his family.

“If they find me, they will kill me or my family,” he said.

Parents can’t get their children back

Parents say there is little they can do to get their children back from soldiers.

A thirty-four-year-old mother named Sara said that she couldn’t convince her 15-year-old son to stay with her in a UN camp after government soldiers recruited him.

“There’s no food in the camp and people are dying there. ‘Why should I go back?’ is what he answers,” she said.

Sara begged an army commander to free her son, but he refused, claiming that it was up to the boy to decide.

 Another mother said she was too afraid to try to free her son because soldiers might rape her.

‘Nature of war’

One government army commander told Al Jazeera that giving children uniforms actually protects them from violence because they would be killed otherwise.

Spokespeople for both armies admitted there could be child soldiers in their ranks.

SPLA-Juba spokesperson Philip Aguer said child soldiers may be fighting but “because of the current situation in South Sudan, it’s impossible to verify.”  The government has promised three times to implement a UN plan to stop the use of child soldiers.

SPLM/A-IO spokesperson Mabior Garang Mabior said that “it’s in the nature of war that children are caught up in the conflict, and sometimes have to fight.”

“We can’t demobilise them now because we’re in the middle of a war,” Mabior added.

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