Khartoum — SOUTH Sudan, the world's youngest country, is commemorating its seventh year of independence amid concern over the future of 19 000 children recruited as soldiers.
This is up from 500 children that were enlisted when the country degenerated into civil war in 2013, two years after independence.
The children are among 2,6 million minors born in war, out of 3,4 million babies in total born after independence from Sudan.
More than 1 million children are malnourished, including 300 000 at risk of death.
The conflict has also pushed hundreds of thousands of children out of school, with 1 in 3 schools damaged, destroyed, occupied or closed.
South Sudan, which celebrates independence today (Monday), has the world's highest proportion of out-of-school children.
"As South Sudan turns seven, a seemingly endless war continues to devastate the lives of millions of children," said Henrietta Fore, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director.
"Warring parties can and must do more to bring back peace. The children of South Sudan deserve better. They simply cannot endure any more."
South Sudan spilt into war after President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy, Riek Machar, on allegations of plotting a coup.
Up to 300 000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war.
More than 2,5 million people- including over 1 million children - have fled to neighbouring countries.
Kiir and Machar recently signed a ceasefire, seen as a positive step in a faltering peace process.
"We now count on the leadership and commanders to respect it while ensuring aid workers are given unrestricted access to those in need," Fore said.