South Sudan armed forces recruit 1,300 children in 2016

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Armed forces and groups in South Sudan recruited 1,300 children in 2016, bringing the total number of children used in fighting since late 2013 to 17,000, the UN children's fund (UNICEF) said Thursday.

UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, said UNICEF and its partners have documented 2,342 children killed or maimed and 1,130 children sexually assaulted since conflict broke out in December 2013.

Gharagozloo-Pakkala said a total of 1,932 children have been released by armed forces and groups -- 1,755 in 2015 and 177 in 2016.

South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Machar denied the allegation but then mobilized a rebel force.

A peace deal signed last year under UN pressure led to the formation of a unity government in April, with Machar returning to his old post as Kiir's deputy. However renewed fighting erupted in July between the rival factions.

"Now, as the fighting intensifies and despite repeated pledges by all to end child recruitment -- children are once again being targeted," Gharagozloo-Pakkala said.

Both Kiir and Machar's parties have signed agreements with the UN to end and prevent the recruitment and the use of children, but violations of child rights have been widespread throughout the conflict.

So far this year, UNICEF and its partners have admitted 184,000 children for treatment of severe malnutrition. That is 50 percent higher than the number of children treated last year.

"UNICEF's concern is that with the prospect of increased hostilities and atrocities, the suffering that children have endured will have no end," said Gharagozloo-Pakkala.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million displaced since late 2013.

Since November, the UN has documented at least 50 children who were abducted and recruited in the Greater Upper Nile region.

The UN has also received reports of grave violations against children committed in the Greater Equatoria region; however, due to high insecurity and restricted access, it has not been able to verify the reports.

The ongoing violence, combined with an economic crisis that has pushed inflation above 800 percent, has also created widespread food insecurity, with malnutrition among children reaching emergency levels in most parts of the country.

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