The United Nations has revealed that forced recruitment of child soldiers has persisted in South Sudan despite a peace deal which was signed last year by President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar.
"Ironically, the prospect of a peace deal has accelerated the forced recruitment of children, with various groups now seeking to boost their numbers before they move into the cantonment sites," the head of UN’s investigating body, Ms Yasmin Sooka, who visited the country in late August, told the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, adding that a return to full-blown conflict remained a possibility.
Some of the country's thousands of child soldiers were released after the 2018 accord, but the chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said that investigators have recently observed a reversal as both government and rebel groups seek to swell their numbers.
"What our investigators have picked up is that in many of the hotspots you are actually seeing an increase in child soldiers. Some of them were girls providing sexual and labour services to the fighters," Ms Sooka told Reuters.
South Sudan split away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war but plunged into its own conflict at the end of 2013.
Both sides agreed in September 2018 to end a civil war that killed scores of people and to form a national army. Implementation has so far been slow but, in a possible sign of progress, President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar met last week and agreed to form a transitional government by the middle of November.
South Sudan Ambassador, Mr Akech Chol Ahou Ayok, in a statement to the rights forum, said that his government was committed to the peace process and that the meeting between opposing sides was evidence of “positive steps in the right direction”.
He did not respond to the specific allegation of child soldiers raised by the UN team.