Three child soldiers were released from the SPLA -IO in Eastern Equatoria and reunited with their biological parents.
Catholic Relief Organization Caritas facilitated young combatants’ demobilization. Boys’ parents were airlifted by a WFP plane from Juba to Torit on Wednesday last week.
Children released include Hakim John Ojek, 18 years old, Stephen John Oting, 19 years old, and Albino Kampala Oting, 13 years old.
They joined the army at a young age in 2019 without the knowledge of their parents. UNICEF later identified them as child soldiers in military training camps.
It took the UN children’s agency two years, with the help of Caritas Torit and MTT, to trace and reunite the boys with their families.
Stephen John Oting, 19, sadly said he returned by force from the SPLA-IO training camp and had no desire to come back home. His disappointment ended up in tears.
Stephen expressed his release has no impact. He has nobody to support his education because all his parents were soldiers.
“I am not happy. I was brought by force, and I don’t even care about anybody. I went in 2019, and I went to be a soldier. When we went from here to the bush, we were then taken to Juba for training and graduation until UNICEF came and told us that they were taking us to school. They took us to another orphan school, but it never worked out.
“They then took us for training in mechanics, but that also failed. They wanted to bring us back home, but I said I did not want to return home and that you better take me back to the military barracks where you got me. So, they refused, that is why they brought me by force and am now seeing nothing good here, and I am going back,”
The former child soldier demanded to be enrolled in school to forget military life but said UNICEF failed them on the education front.
David Oria Keteto, the father to one of the reunited boys, expressed happiness and applauded the organization after receiving his son after many years.
“I have a child here. First of all, I want to thank you in the name of Jesus Christ. Thank you for handling my child in your hands until I get him in my front today. When he went from here, we don’t know how only that we heard a report about him that he is with UN in Juba. Today, I am very happy to receive my child. God bless you.”
Omal Augustine is a child protection officer at Caritas Torit, said his organization facilitated the return of children but did not have any direct support for their education. He promised they would keep monitoring children for some time to adapt to the new environment with their families.
The acting Director-General for gender and social Idwa Dominica appreciated the partners for reuniting the children with their families.
“I’m happy with the MTT organization, which was able to get these children in Juba. Big town, if you go to Juba, you will confuse; how would you have to get them. Juba is big mixed with many tribes. How were you going to get these children? In Eastern Equatoria here in which village until they reach the family.
So am also very happy with Caritas Torit, who can link with MTT until these children come here today. Caritas, this is the second time that I am receiving children that you did family tracing and reunification. This is now the second load of the children I am receiving in the ministry of gender and social welfare.”
She urged parents to take good care of their children, not develop problems, and escape home.
This is the second time Caritas Torit has facilitated the reunion of children and their parents, according to the acting director-general for gender and social development.
The Catholic relief organization Caritas is working in collaboration with UNICEF to facilitate the reunification process of lost children and soldiers.