Last week, more than 300 child soldiers were released in South Sudan, with their freedom being celebrated as a big step towards ending the use of child soldiers in the conflict.

But Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire (Ret’d) says those numbers are just a drop in the bucket and much more needs to be done to keep kids out of war zones.

“That number is encouraging… but there are over 19,000 (child soldiers) there. That number varies but right now is increasing, because the conflict is ongoing,” Dallaire told CTV News Channel on Monday from Halifax.

With Monday being the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, Global Affairs Canada has announced it will be offering the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative at Dalhousie University $3 million to develop programs to end the use of child soldiers in South Sudan.

Dallaire says so much of the discussion about child soldiers has often focused on how to rehabilitate and reintegrate children who have served as soldiers. But he says that has done little to reduce the number of kids fighting.

Dallaire would rather focus on initiatives to prevent children being recruited in the first place.

“I want funding to stop (kids) from coming (into wars) and make them a liability, so that forces don’t want to use them,” he said.

The United Nations announced Monday that its efforts led armed groups to release 5,000 child soldiers in 2017, but Dallaire says so much more needs to be done.

“That’s impressive but remember, there are over 16 conflicts going on in the world and children are used massively in every one of them,” he said.

Dallaire says his work at Dalhousie has led him to believe that the nature of the use of child soldiers is becoming uglier.

“We have argued… that the recruitment of child soldiers is an early warning sign of potential mass atrocities and even genocide. Because… if you’re ready to use kids to rape and kill and destroy, you’re ready to do pretty much anything. And that’s what we want to stop.”

Several terrorist and rebel groups set out to convince children to pick up guns and join their fights. There are also seven countries that use children in the front lines, including Somalia, Central African Republic, and Myanmar.

In Sudan, Dallaire says his group is trying to stop the use of child soldiers by training the country’s national forces as well as the UN forces in the deployment area, with the aim of reducing the capacity of other forces to recruit child soldiers to fight for them.

His group also focuses efforts on local community groups that can facilitate the peace process and prevent children being recruited in the first place.