Armed forces continue to occupy schools: Unicef

Armed forces continue to occupy schools: Unicef
UNICEF’s country representative, Jester Moller. [Photo: Keji Janefer]

Armed forces and other groups continue to occupy schools, leading to the destruction of buildings, the UN children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) revealed.

Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, UNICEF’s country representative, Jester Moller, called on the government to join hands so that children suffering from conflicts can get a better learning environment. 

 “Children and adolescents need to live within the protective environments of families, communities, and schools.” “We must work together to build a protective environment so every child can enjoy their childhood and reach their potential free of the damaging and intergenerational impacts of conflict,” Moller stressed.

Moller said children suffered six grave violations committed during armed conflicts, such as abduction, rape, sexual assault, use of children for military purposes, attacks on hospitals and schools, and the killing and maiming of children.

However, he pointed out that since the signing of the 2018 revitalised peace agreement, there has been a heartening decline in those serious violations against children. He reiterated that his organisation would continue to support the South Sudanese government to end serious abuses of children’s rights.

But the government differed with the findings of Unicef. The Minister of Information, Michael Makuei, said there was no single school that the army occupied during the time of schooling, leading to the expulsion of learners.

Although he acknowledged the army still uses some unoccupied schools, he clarified that these only apply to sparsely populated areas with few or no pupils or teachers at all.

“Most of the areas that have not been vacated up to now are occupied because of the absence of a population, and when the army vacates such a school, the rebels will come and occupy them,” he said.

“The best thing is to maintain them. Keep the army there so that the few people that are there will continue to be protected even though most of them are staying without children who go to school; and if there are any children, there is no teachers to go and teach them.”

“There are a lot of reports that the army is occupying such barracks, such a school, such a compound, but instead of just writing like that, why don’t you go and find out exactly for yourself?” said Makuei.

Unicef report states that 24 schools in South Sudan have been occupied by armed forces since the end of May 2014, affecting about 8,000 students. The majority of recorded incidents are linked to various government actors.