South Sudanese government forces are actively recruiting boys as young as 13, often by force, as soldiers in Malakal, Upper Nile state, Human Rights Watch said today. Both parties to South Sudan’s conflict have recruited and used child soldiers, which is a war crime when children are under 15. Commanders from both the government and the opposition should issue clear orders barring recruitment of all children under 18 and cooperate with relevant United Nations agencies to help these children return to places of safety. Human Rights Watch, on a visit to Malakal in late January 2015, collected about 25 accounts of child recruitment in the area from parents and other relatives, from children who had escaped recruitment or whose friends had been recruited, and from young adults who had also been forcibly recruited together with children. When the current armed conflict broke out in December 2013, however, child recruitment resumed. Both the government forces led by President Salva Kiir, and the opposition forces led by Riek Machar, the former vice president and now the opposition leader, have recruited and deployed children in their forces. The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has said that thousands of children have already fought in the war on both sides. A recent UN report said that the use and recruitment of 561 children had been documented by UN child protection actors since the beginning of the conflict. The government of South Sudan should ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children and armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said. The protocol sets 18 as the minimum age for any participation in armed conflict.