UN expert warns Sudan forces, armed groups using minors as child soldiers

An independent UN human rights expert, Siobhán Mullally, has expressed concern over the increased risk of recruiting and using children by armed forces and armed groups in Sudan as the months-long war between rival militaries continues.

Ms Mullally, the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, said unaccompanied children and children from poor families have reportedly been targeted by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia in the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum and elsewhere.

“They’ve forcibly recruited women and children especially. Girls have also reportedly been abducted from Khartoum to Darfur for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery,’’ she said in a statement.

To date, Ms Mullally said an estimated 9,000 people had been killed, over 5.6 million were driven from their homes in the civil conflict between military Government forces and the RSF, and 25 million were reliant on aid.

“The deteriorating humanitarian situation and lack of access to food and other basic services make children, especially unaccompanied and separated children on the streets, easy targets for recruitment by armed groups,” she said.

The UN Human Rights Council-appointed expert stressed that recruiting children by armed groups for any form of exploitation, including in combat roles, is a gross violation of human rights, a serious crime and a violation of international humanitarian law.

Addressing reports that children might be joining armed groups as a means of survival, Mullally emphasised that the consent of a child – defined as any person below the age of 18 – is legally irrelevant, and it is not necessary to prove the use of force.

Ms Mullally also voiced concern over the lack of humanitarian access to children. 

She called on all parties to the conflict to return to peace talks and reach a comprehensive ceasefire agreement that would allow for the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance and ensure accountability for alleged violations.

“Urgent action is needed to address these pressing concerns and take effective measures to prevent child trafficking and provide effective protection to child victims and children at risk, in particular displaced, unaccompanied and separated children, refugee children and children with disabilities,” Ms Mullally said.