Former Child Soldiers in South Sudan
- Former Child Soldiers in South Sudan
Most of 13-year-old Mabior's life has been scarred by violence. As a former child soldier in southern Sudan he experienced regular brutality and extreme poverty. For 22 years his country was in the grip of a violent civil war. During this time until peace in 2005, thousands of children like Mabior were recruited to fight as child soldiers. These children suffered great trauma and violence and were brutally robbed of their innocence.
According to UNICEF, around 20,000 child soldiers have been demobilized in Sudan since 2001. But unfortunately there are some who are still involved in armed groups and others at risk of being re-recruited.
Child soldiers face a life of violence and hardship. Many are abducted from their families and forced to engage in battles, or undertake hard labor. They may also be subjected to physical and sexual assault. In these conditions `normal' childhood activities such as school and games are nonexistent.
A life scarred by conflict
Mabior remembers that as a young child there were constant battles in his village. Young boys were targeted by each side in the on-going conflict to ensure that they would never grow up to fight for the opposing troops. Years of conflict in South Sudan had forced the people living there deeper into poverty as families fled from their homes, infrastructure was destroyed and opportunities to make a living were wiped out.
"Life was so difficult," Mabior explained, "there was nothing to eat, nothing to wear, people were always sick and we expected to be killed at any time."
Signing up to fight
In this climate of poverty and fear, troops offered young boys money to join them. For Mabior this seemed to be a way out.
"My family and I thought that if I joined the army I would not be killed," he said, "so I went to the station in my area and volunteered."
But after he joined the armed group he soon found his situation was even worse than before. He had to clean the barracks, wash the officers' clothes, cook and learn how to fight. The only contact he had with his mother was via radio.
Reunited with family
Mabior left the armed group in 2006 when a consortium of organizations, including Islamic Relief negotiated for the release of child soldiers in Upper Nile and Jongli states.
"They brought us to our village, found our families, gave us clothes and also sent us to school," Mabior explained.
Mabior enjoys going to school and is now in grade three. Because he has no electricity in his house, he will often sit under a tree with his best friend Akol, who was also a child soldier, and do his homework. When he is older Mabior hopes to be a teacher.
"I know that peace is the best thing in the world," he said. "I will teach the children so that they have peace in our country and so that they do not miss the chance of an education or risk losing their parents."
"Some former child combatants are rejoining the armed groups because there is no support to help them go to school. Some also rejoin so that they can make money to support their families," explained Ali Moga, Islamic Relief's Program Officer in Malakal.
"Former child soldiers need to be provided with an education. When they learn, they improve their opportunities for a better future. The literacy and math classes we provide also bring them closer together, and help them socialize and interact with each other."
"Often the children face psychological problems because they have been brutally forced to follow orders, to go into combat and to kill people. We provide one-to-one counseling sessions to help the children deal with any psychological problems. The activities such as the football tournaments we organize teach them the spirit of competition, respect and cooperation," Moga said.
Islamic Relief has been working with former child soldiers in Upper Nile and Jongli states since 2006. It is feared that many children who have been demobilized over the last few years have taken up arms again because they have been unable to fit back into normal life in their communities. Islamic Relief help to reintegrate former child combatants like Mabior into their community.
Former child soldiers can experience psychological problems and social exclusion after demobilization. Islamic Relief's project helps to reintegrate former soldiers by providing them with education, livelihood skills and recreational activities. To help them deal with trauma, psychological support, including counseling sessions, is also provided.
Islamic Relief also helps to trace the families of former child soldiers once they have been demobilized. 16-year-old Akol, Mabior's best friend, had no contact with his family while he was part of an armed group. He lost his father in 1994 and his mother five years later, but was reunited with his aunt and uncle through Islamic Relief's family tracing program after he was demobilized in 2006.
Facts on Child Soldiers
Since 2001, the use of child soldiers has been reported in 21 on-going or recent conflicts around the world. (Human Rights Watch)
Around 100,000 children were estimated to be involved in armed conflicts in Africa during 2004. (www.child-soldiers.org)
Around 20,000 child soldiers have been demobilized in Sudan since 2001. (UNICEF)
Over 30,000 children have been involved in fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998. (War Child)
Children are more likely to become soldiers if they are poor, separated from their families, displaced from their home, living in a war-torn region or have limited access to education. (Human Rights Watch)
The International Criminal Court can prosecute and punish those found guilty of recruiting children under 15.
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