NAIROBI, Kenya — The use of child soldiers — teenage boys dressed in military uniforms and carrying assault rifles — is commonplace in South Sudan and will be the subject of U.N. Security Council discussions next month, the top U.N. official for children and armed conflict said Thursday.
South Sudan has suffered from decades of conflict, and the U.N. official, Leila Zerrougui, said the country had cut down on the use of children in combat until massive violence broke out in December.
Zerrougui said that when she visited the rebel commander David Yau Yau in June, there were child soldiers alongside him when he greeted her.
"We are seeing that the ongoing violation against children is a trend and is committed by both sides," she said.
She also said that the use of child soldiers in Somalia — especially by opposition militias like al-Shabab — is high. She called the practice unacceptable and underscored the need to advocate an end to children in combat.
Human Rights Watch this week said South Sudan's government used children in fighting this month in Bentiu and Rubkona. Witnesses told the group that they saw dozens of armed children in military uniform.
Human Rights Watch said members of the military and government in Bentiu acknowledged that their forces include children but those officials said the children have been seeking work.
"South Sudan's army has returned to a terrible practice, once again throwing children into the battlefields," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Civilian and military leaders should immediately remove all children from their ranks and return them to their families."
The group said that it spoke to a 12-year-old boy who said that a government soldier ordered him and other children in Rubkona to shoot at opposition forces. A 14-year-old said he was in battle and lay on the ground "whenever I heard shelling."