At least 85 children were released from detention on Thursday in South Sudan as preventive measure amid surge in COVID-19 cases, the UN children’s agency said.
UNICEF said in a statement issued in Juba that the juveniles were released from detention to decongest prisons as a COVID-19 prevention measure.
“Children have a special need for protection and their wellbeing must be secured,” said Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF representative in South Sudan.
Ayoya disclosed the latest release of the children is the best way of upholding their right to safe and healthy living conditions, including returning them to their homes where they can be taken care of by their families.
UNICEF said the children will be handed over to their parents or other legal guardians, noting that 11 juveniles remain in prison due to the severity of the offences they are accused of.
“As detention of new children is still ongoing, UNICEF and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will continue to advocate for their immediate release as new cases become known,” it noted.
UNICEF said that prisons in South Sudan are overcrowded with inadequate access to hygiene services, nutrition and healthcare conditions that are highly conducive to the spread of diseases like COVID-19.
In late April, South Sudan’s National Prisons Service released 1,400 inmates on minor offences as part of preventive measures against COVID-19.
UNICEF observed that detained children are also more vulnerable to neglect, abuse and gender-based violence, especially if staffing levels or care will be negatively impacted by the pandemic or containment measures.
It said the release is a collaboration between the Judiciary of South Sudan, Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, UNMISS and UNICEF, adding that these are also important partners for UNICEF working to improve justice for children in South Sudan.
Ayoya added that there is an urgent need to prevent children from making offences in the first place and also addressing root causes such as poverty, lack of education and future opportunities.