“But as the children listened to the words of their teacher, soldiers from the rebel forces surrounded the school’s pale-blue, concrete classrooms…They were given no choice. They were now the latest young recruits, in South Sudan’s bloody civil war.” –Tom Burridge
South Sudan, the world’s newest country, gained its independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011 after suffering from two civil wars for approximately 40 years in total. However, in December 2013, another civil war broke out. This South Sudanese civil war started off as a political struggle, but then transformed into an ethnic conflict. President Salva Kiir, the leader of the Dinka ethnic group, accused former Vice-President and leader of the Nuer ethnic group, Riek Machar, of staging a coup to overthrow him as president of South Sudan. However, Machar claimed that he was just trying to suppress political opposition. These differences have resulted in thousands dead and millions displaced. It has also forced over 10,000 child soldiers into fighting against their will.
Children as young as 12 years remain vulnerable to recruitment by both ethnic groups in various parts of South Sudan. According to the Enough Team, the UN claims that approximately 50 schools have been attacked with over 6,000 children gone missing since December 2013. For example, in January 2014, the opposition party made up of the Nuer group stormed into a school and told 300 students that they had to fight against the government or else they would kill them.
Children feel like they do not have many alternatives. While many children are forced to fight, some children see becoming a soldier as employment or think it is the best place to be. This is a direct result of the corruption in the South Sudanese government and their failure to invest in infrastructure, education, and healthcare.
So, why hasn’t the South Sudanese government learned from their past? Will this young country survive? Why is greed and power more important than the welfare of their people? How can we hold the people involved accountable for their atrocious actions? And what can be done to help these children?
A Ray of Hope
The UN, among various local and international organizations, is working on humanitarian efforts to help people, particularly children and refugees, in South Sudan. For example, the UN recently launched the “We are Children, Not Soldiers” campaign in March 2014 to prevent the recruitment of children as soldiers. Furthermore, successful schools like the Excel Academy provide a good education to refugees and affected children in South Sudan to keep them out of war.
Even Hollywood recently produced a film called “The Good Lie”, which is a fictional tale about 4 child soldiers that escaped civil war in South Sudan by coming to America, to raise awareness of this issue. While the story is fictional, it is based off of true events. One of the main actors, Emmanuel Jal, was a former child soldier in South Sudan.
As South Sudan looks into its future, in the words of Emmanuel Jal, “Education is always the key. That’s something we always have in our minds, all of us. Every little girl and boy wants their education. When we come to this country and education is provided for us, that is the most important thing.”
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3. Copnall, J. (2014, October 28). Amid conflict and poverty, this school in South Sudan is an unlikely success. The Guardian. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/oct/28/south-sudan-excel-academy-school-success
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