Bentiu — South Sudan's army released 53 children from its barracks in Unity state on Tuesday after they forcibly recruited earlier this year to help fight a rebellion.
Division four of the South Sudanese army (SPLA) handed over the underage soldiers to the South Sudan Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Programme (SSDDR), George Gatloi Koang, the organisations Unity state director, told Sudan Tribune.
The children who had been forced by local chiefs to join the SPLA in March, were mainly from Payinjiar county. It was in March that the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) rebel group declared it was at war with the government.
Koang said that the SSDDR "strongly condemned" the SPLA for recruiting children to be part of the army. An optional protocol to the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child children under 18 cannot be used in combat or in roles supporting soldiers.
Child soldiers were widely used in Sudan's two-decade north-south civil war, which killed around two million people.
"It took us one month together with SPLA division four of Unity State to identify such children in the army barracks of SPLA, and through the strong support we got from our army that made us to succeeded in bringing out those 53 children out of Army barracks today", said Koang.
A 15 year old boy who did not want his name to be used told Sudan Tribune when the SPLA demanded soldiers from his community in Payinjiar county the local chiefs had handed him and other boys over to the military.
During his "six months training" he said that did not even "dream [that] one day we will be demobilised by the concerned body like the South Sudan disarmament Programme, but thank God we are out of these battalion line".
The South Sudan DDR programme is working in partnership with UNICEF, Save the Children and the VSF Holland to help the children re-integrate into society, which can be difficult considering their lack of training and education.
Most of boys who were released were between the ages of 13 to 17 years of age.
Preparations are underway to return the children to their areas of origin and to their families.