The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today welcomed the announcement by a former Sudanese rebel faction that it will begin handing over children participating in its armed groups in Darfur.The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), which is one of the signatories of last year’s Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), has indicated that several children attached to its forces in North and South Darfur have been identified, and further formal identification of children will begin next month.“Today we are thankful that for many children in Darfur the process of rebuilding their lives can begin,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Representative in Sudan. “Every day these children have been associated with armed groups has been a day of childhood lost.”Today’s announcement comes after months of discussions between UNICEF and SLM/A, and the signing ceremony was officially witnessed by Acting Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General Oluseyi Bajulaiye.The agreement obliges the SLM/A to name locations where children are associated with its armed groups in one month, after which the group and the UN will embark on a joint verification project.UNICEF, partnering with the Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), will assist in helping the children find their families and will participate in community integration programmes. The agency will also train SLM/A field commanders on international children’s rights and protection standards.Demobilized children will also be able to take part in life skills and vocational training schemes and be provided with educational support. During the period of reintegration, social workers will monitor and follow-up up with these youth, UNICEF said.“Today’s agreement with the SLM/A is only the start of the process,” Mr. Chaiban noted. “It will take time for children to be properly identified and appropriate reintegration programmes to be established, but I hope we will now see real efforts to turn this agreement into tangible action for children, and that others will now agree to hand over children that may be attached to their own forces.”Although the exact number of children associated with armed forces and groups in Darfur are unknown, UNICEF estimates that at least 7,000 children in the region are acting as combatants or are in subsidiary roles such as porters, cooks, messengers and bodyguards.“These children are amongst the most vulnerable in Darfur, and they must be given the chance to go home, and take back their childhood,” Mr. Chaiban observed.This January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and former UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah appealed to both signatories and non-signatories to the DPA to demobilize children.The recruitment and use of children by parties to armed conflict is outlawed by a number of UN resolutions and by an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Sudan has signed. The country’s draft Armed Forces Act also criminalizes the recruitment of children under the age of 18 into the armed forces. 11 June 2007The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today welcomed the announcement by a former Sudanese rebel faction that it will begin handing over children participating in its armed groups in Darfur.