South Sudanese armed forces and armed opposition groups continue to recruit child soldiers and force them into the conflict, despite numerous commitments to stop, Human Rights Watch outlined in a new report.

Individuals responsible for this crime include President Salva Kiir, rebel leader Riek Machar and all other commanding officers violating the laws of war.

“The continued recruitment and use of children by the military and opposing armed groups point to the utter impunity that reigns in South Sudan, and the terrible cost of this war on children,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “There’s a chance to reverse the tide if the region follows through on its promise to impose sanctions on individual violators of human rights. A failure to do so would discredit the region’s commitment to stop the abuses in South Sudan.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than two dozen current and former child soldiers from the former Western Equatoria and Unity states in South Sudan in November and December 2017. Human Rights Watch found that commanders from both government forces and rebel groups have been abducting, detaining, and forcing children, some as young as 13, into their ranks since the warring parties signed the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) in August 2015.

Many boys said soldiers abducted them from their homes or off the street, detaining them for days or weeks at times in overcrowded containers, sometimes tying them up. Several described harsh training conditions and physical punishments such as lashing and confinement.

“The food was not enough – we had to run, jump, use wooden guns,” said Makuach, a 17-year-old boy recruited by government forces in Unity in 2016. “If you refuse, they punish you by forcing you to stand under the sun, I was tired once and then I was beaten. They poured water over me and beat me with a stick on the buttocks 40 times, until I was bleeding.” As with others interviewed, he is not identified by his real name, for his protection.

Others were forced to commit or witness horrible crimes. “The order was to kill anything we found,” said John, who was recruited by government forces in Unity at 17, about an attack on rebel forces. “Some of us went to loot. Others gang-raped a woman. There were also those who took the children – some of them infants – by their ankles to crush their heads against the trees or any hard thing. And then civilians were taken into a house and the soldiers set it on fire. I saw it.”

Many appeared traumatized from the violence and from being separated from their families; almost all said they missed being at school.

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