Under the shade of two trees in the unforgiving South Sudanese bush, a large, dishevelled group of children sits quietly, accompanied by an earnest group of adults. On first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a field trip from a local school, but as you get a little closer, you notice that most of these children are carrying high velocity automatic weapons.
This gathering marks the start of the process of handing over 300 war-weary child soldiers to the care of UNICEF after months of negotiations with the warring Cobra faction. It is estimated that around 12,000 children between the ages of eight and 17 are being used by armed forces and armed groups on both sides of the conflict in South Sudan and, ultimately, about 3,000 child soldiers will be released to the care of UNICEF and its partners.
These organisations will provide food, shelter, clothing and basic health care, as well as tracing the families of these children so that they can return to their families and communities. The children will also receive support counselling and much needed psycho-social support.
After the ceremony at which they laid down their weapons, the boys exchanged their uniforms for new civilian clothes provided by UNICEF. When asked what they wanted to do once they had their freedom, the most common answer was: “I want to go to school and learn everything I can.”
Wearing a new, bright pink shirt, and with a smile on his face, one boy left the group and started the long walk to a new life and the chance be a child once again.
- Pray for the continued safe handover of child soldiers into care, and that, ultimately, all of the child soldiers will be released and reunited with their families.
- Pray for emotional and spiritual healing for these boys, after witnessing so much violence and trauma.
- Pray that they will come to know the healing grace and love of Jesus.
- Pray for Sudan, for peace and resolution to the political and religious conflict.
Psalm 103 vs 13: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.”