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[gallery ids="https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0314.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan. Some as young as seven years old like this child .,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0326.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan.,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0340.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan. An SPLA soldier keeps a lookout.,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0347-2.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan. A Cobra faction officer looks on at the release.,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0360-1.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan. An SPLA soldier keeps a lookout.,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0371.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan.,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0377.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan. An SPLA officer warns the children of the perils of being a soldier and is telling them that a new lifeawaits them, a good one ...,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0409-1.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan. The child soldiers lay down their weapons.,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0443.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan. Their discarded weapons lie on the ground,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB5719.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan.,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0442.jpg|An SPLA soldier keeps a look out at the release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction to UNICEF in Pibor South Sudan,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0392.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan.,https://www.diplomaticourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEB0423-2.jpg|The release of three hundred child soldiers from the Cobra faction into the care of UNICEF in Pibou South Sudan. The child soldiers exchange their uniforms for civilian clothers given out by UNICEF member of Staff Abraham."] In the relative cool shade provided by two giant water starved trees, in the unforgiving South Sudan, sits patiently a large dishevelled group of children. Sitting in front of them are an earnest group of adults. On approaching this group you could be forgiven for thinking this was a field trip undertaken by a local school. It wasn’t until I got a little closer that I noticed that most of these children were carrying high velocity automatic weapons. A little unnerving seeing such weapons in such tiny hands. The warring Cobra faction after months of delicate negations were in the process of handing over three-hundred war-weary child soldiers to the care of UNICEF. With a few suspicious frowns, but mostly in good spirits, the boys laid down their automatic weapons under the watchful eyes of the SPLA (Sudanese Peoples Army), the local police, UNICEF, and the Guvnor of Pibor. I spoke to many of these children about what they wanted to do as soon as they had the freedom and overwhelmingly the answer was “I want to go to school and learn everything I can.” More than 12,000 children are currently being used by armed forces and armed groups on both sides of the conflict in South Sudan. Ultimately, an estimated 3,000 child soldiers between the ages of eight and 17 will be released to the care of UNICEF and its partners. UNICEF and its partners are supporting the children being released by the Cobra Faction with immediate interim care—food, shelter, clothing, and basic health care as well tracing the families of these children so that the children can return to their families and communities. The children will also receive counselling and much needed psychosocial support. UNICEF will extend this support to an additional 3,000 girls and boys in the communities to which the released children will return. But freedom for these now ex child soldiers does not come cheap. The costs for the release and reintegration of each child is approximately $2,330 for 24 months. UNICEF is appealing for $13 million to fund the immediate needs of the released children and the vulnerable communities where they live. After the ceremony of putting down their weapons, the children exchanged their uniforms for new civilian clothes provided by UNICEF. One of the boys looked at a bright brand new pink shirt that had been offered in replacement for his tattered battle fatigues and said “this color is for girls, but its so comfortable.” With a shrug and a smile he walked in the direction of Pibor village to start a new life and the chance be a child once again. Sebastian Rich is a freelance conflict photographer/Photojournalist working with UNICEF on a month long tour of four African countries in a state of war or conflict.

About
Sebastian Rich
:
Sebastian Rich is Senior Contributing Photographer at Diplomatic Courier. Sebastian has been a photographer/cameraman in hard news, documentary and current affairs for over thirty years.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.