By its very nature it is difficult to obtain accurate figures for the number of child soldiers on both sides of the conflict in Sudan, however figures from 2006 suggest that there were around seventeen thousand child soldiers serving in government forces, armed militia and various rebel groups, including up to five thousand in the Sudan People's Liberation Army alone. This Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) often recruited these children, the youngest as young as six, from refugee camps in the area. Some were abducted, others lured by the promise of education in southern Sudan after the end of the conflict. Others were simply going about their daily business when they were taken. One young teenager describes how he became a child solder: "I am a shepherd. Some people came to me and asked me to come with them. They took three sheep and I asked for payment. They said come with us and we will give you the money. They slaughtered one of the sheep. There was no money. They hauled me into a four wheel drive, they tied me up until we reached the desert, eventually they untied me and I waited for a chance to escape." But there are no escape, just enforced enlistment.
However although many were forced to fight, many more willingly joined up, seeing no future in the bleak refugee camps, only abject poverty and starvation. As one child soldier, recruited and wounded by gunshots at the age of fifteen states "The SPLA is my mother and father, they are my family." With the war between the north and south of Sudan is effectively over following South Sudan's independence in 2011 (although there is ongoing conflict especially around the disputed and oil rich Abyei territory and elsewhere and much conflict within South Sudan itself which is already an effective failed state), there are renewed efforts to release child soldiers from service. The army in South Sudan has agreed to stop the use of child soldiers and even the JEM (The Justice and Equality Movement rebel group in Darfur) is now committed to cease their use.
Whilst these announcements are to be welcomed it is not always easy to identify those operating as child soldiers in Sudan and even harder to successfully demobilise them and reintegrate them back into a devastated community where mistrust runs high and family support is more often than not non-existent. There are also fears that any renewed conflict or violence in the South Sudan area could easily lead to groups abandoning their commitment to demobilise child soldiers and once again recruit them to their ranks. However, whilst the current peace is maintained, there are hopes that the SPLA's will honour its pledge to rid its ranks of all under-18s not least because the agreement provides for the UN to carry out unannounced visits to the SPLA's barracks and training camps to identify any children in their ranks. This video documentary explores child soldiers in Sudan and the attempts to rehabilitate them back into that wider community.
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