The number of children recruited as soldiers in South Sudan is on the rise, reversing an earlier decline in the ranks of minors in the conflict-struck country, Human Rights Watch stated on Wednesday.
The use of child soldiers in the army had been reduced after the government promised the United Nations it would do so. That was in March 2012, eight months after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan following a decades-long civil war.
But a new conflict between government and rebel troops has now led to both sides recruiting children as soldiers, HRW said.
The conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than 1 million people since mid-December.
HRW quoted witnesses as saying they had seen dozens of children in army uniform in Bentiu and Rubkona in the north. The boys were armed with assault rifles and fired on rebel positions. Some of them were as young as 12.
Government officials admitted to the human rights group the army included children under 18, but said they had come to the military looking for protection and work.
Rebel forces have also forcibly recruited hundreds of children from schools in Bentiu and Rubkona, HRW quoted witnesses as saying.
Use of children as soldiers is illegal both under South Sudanese and international war law. - Sapa-dpa