Former Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard, currently chairperson of a Global Partnership for Education (GPE), has condemned the abduction of more than 80 students by an armed group in Malakal in South Sudan.
“It is with utmost dismay that I condemn the abduction. It is shocking to hear that the children were attacked while taking exams at school. This is unacceptable and the perpetrators must be brought to justice,” said Gillard in a statement issued yesterday.
Gillard said schools have to be safe places where children can learn and teachers teach without fear of being attacked and she condemned the recruitment and use of children in armed forces as a grave violation of international law.
Over the weekend, an armed group in South Sudan attacked and abducted at least 89 boys, some as young as 13, near Malakal, the capital of South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, according to a stament by Unicef.
Malakal, which is currently under government control, has recently seen intense fighting between rebel forces and government troops who accuse each other of violating multiple peace agreements.
Unicef said armed men surrounded the community and searched house by house, forcibly taking boys older than 12, many of whom were doing their exams. It is feared that the number of those abducted could be much higher.
On her visit to Rwanda, earlier this month, Gillard expressed concern about the raging insecurity in many places of sub-Saharan Africa, which she said is the leading factor impeding global efforts to promote education for all.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, broke into violence in December 2013 after a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Efforts by regional governments to end the standoff have yielded several ceasefire deals and agreements that both warring parties have failed to honour and in 2014; at least 12,000 children were used as soldiers by armed forces and groups across South Sudan, according to Unicef.