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16,000 child soldiers recruited into South Sudan's armed groups since end of 2013 - UNICEF

16,000 child soldiers recruited into South Sudan's armed groups since end of 2013 - UNICEFA spike in the forced recruitment of child soldiers in South Sudan could be imminent, the United Nations' children's agency said on Friday, amid fears that the world's youngest nation is on the brink of renewed civil war.

Despite an August 2015 peace deal, fierce fighting broke out in the capital Juba last month, killing hundreds of people.

"At this precarious stage in South Sudan's short history, UNICEF fears that a further spike in child recruitment could be imminent," UNICEF's deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said in a statement after visiting South Sudan.

Some 16,000 children have been recruited into armed groups since December 2013, UNICEF says, when civil war erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing former vice president Riek Machar.

More than one in five of South Sudan's 11 million people has fled their homes as a result of the ethnically charged war.

Forces attacking villages often grab children and force them, at gunpoint, to fight, rights groups say.

Others join to save themselves from being beaten or killed and to protect their communities.

Half of children in South Sudan do not go to school -- the highest proportion in the world, UNICEF said.

Read also: UNICEF: 87 mln children under 7 spent their entire lives in war zones

Renewed fighting risks reversing gains made in 2015, when UNICEF oversaw the release of 1,775 former child soldiers, one of the largest demobilisations of children.

Most were freed by the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction after its leader David Yau Yau signed a 2014 peace deal with the government.

An additional 650 children joined military forces in 2016, UNICEF said, amid numerous ceasefire violations.
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