Despite the peace deal holding in South Sudan, an estimated 19,000 children are feared to still be in captivity in the bush working for the different militias.
There are also worrying signs that some will return to fighting if conditions don’t improve soon.
Rape is also being used as a weapon of war, and the child soldiers are reportedly ordered to carry out those rapes.
Children trained to rape and kill
The UN special representative for South Sudan, David Shearer, said he believed the different fighting units were still recruiting children in an attempt to shore up their positions and bargaining power as the country tries to manage the peace after five years of civil war.
It comes after South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation after gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 following decades of conflict.
Two years later, the country descended into fighting again when civil war broke out between different ethnic groups after President Salva Kiir accused his deputy Riek Machar of attempting to overthrow him in a coup.
Many of the children recounted horrifying tales of multiple rapes. At a rehabilitation centre in Yambio, many of the young women had babies conceived after the rapes. Many of the girls – some of who were as young as 13 – spoke of gang rapes on a regular basis.
One young woman, who spent a year with one of the militia groups who have been battling for political power, gave a graphic report of how the girls were beaten if they tried to resist.
“If you refuse, they will tie you and they will beat you and also at the same time, they will rape you,” she said. “After raping you, they will tie you, they leave you, and they go. That’s how they used to do their things there.”
Those raped and those who were ordered to carry out the rapes are now training side by side in a rehabilitation centre in Yambio designed to teach them new skills and provide extensive counselling.
The boys were being taught bricklaying skills, while the girls were sitting, with their babies on their laps, learning rudimentary sewing skills.
One young man confessed he was ordered to rape girls and admitted he carried out those orders, forcing himself on four different females. He said he felt “very bad” now, since contracting syphilis and gonorrhoea.
Another who said he was only 17 but had been with a militia for the past three years, laughed and smiled while he admitted he “only” carried out beatings and killings but stopped short of raping.
When asked about how many people he had killed, he laughed once more, adding: “I don’t know the total… I never know the total.”
Many of the young women astonishingly spoke of forgiving their rapists.
“I don’t wish any bad on him,” said one 18-year-old -. Another told us she felt blessed to have given birth to a daughter in spite of her being conceived as a result of violent and unwanted sex.
They all spoke of the hope that the peace deal would hold. After their childhoods have been snatched away from them, hope is the one emotion they are clinging on to.