The United Nations said on Sunday that hundreds of boys have been abducted in South Sudan over the last month, and that the kidnappers may have recruited the victims into a pro-government militia.
Last week the UN released a statement saying that 89 boys, some as young as 13, had been kidnapped in Wau Shilluk, a riverside town in the Upper Nile State. The UN now believes they were kidnapped by the Shilluk militia, which is aligned with the government’s SPLA forces, though the government has repeatedly denied having any control over the group.
“We fear [the children] are going from the classroom to the front line,” said UNICEF’s representative in South Sudan, Jonathan Veitch. “The recruitment and use of children by armed forces destroys families and communities.”
UNICEF estimates there are at least 12,000 children being used by both sides in South Sudan’s ongoing civil war. Witnesses have reported seeing kids as young as 12 carrying guns, according to the UN.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of violence, making it the world’s youngest nation. It has been embroiled in violence since December 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his fired deputy, Riek Machar, of trying to oust him through a coup.
Militias loyal to both leaders have been battling it out since, though the division also falls along tribal lines, with the Dinka community supporting the president and the Nuer community backing Machar.