Myth of JEM child soldiers

Myth of JEM child soldiers

Friday 27 June 2008 04:15.

By Mahmoud A. Suleiman

June 26, 2008 — Observers say it is not a coincidence that the report by the London-based human rights group Waging Peace, to emerge in less than one month after the ruling NCP political propaganda machine accused the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of using child soldiers in the Operation Long Arm (OLA) to launch its attack on Omdurman, showing some young men with facial injuries on TV footage. Waging Peace Organisation alleged in its report that refugees from the Darfur conflict as young as nine years old are being sold to armed rebel groups including Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) as child soldiers! Analysts thought that report lacked credibility, barefaced lie and the Waging Peace Organisation seemed as though worked in collusion with the infamous genocidal National Congress Party (NCP) regime and promoted the views of the pariah government of Sudan (GOS) against JEM. The organisation has landed itself in trouble by its heavy handed approach to a delicate matter at an inappropriate time.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has got in its Organizational Structure a legal Secretariat/Department responsible for passing regulations which oblige the movement to abide by the Geneva Convention that prohibits enlistment of children as soldiers. JEM has never recruited children in its ranks. The JEM Statute strictly prohibits recruitment of men under the age of 18. Moreover, JEM has a humanitarian coordination officer who ensures compliance with this rule. The accusation was a drunken farce, blatant lie at its best and malicious allegation at its worst. Critics who understand the devilish tactics and dirty tricks of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) of the NCP say that the children shown in the Sudan government television channel were street children who had been rounded up, subjected to bullying measures, beaten or lured them into a trap for the sake of their badly directed melodrama of smear campaign against JEM. There are credible reports that some of these children were taken from Qura’nic schools, such as Suaad al-Fatih, in the three- town Capital City of Khartoum.

This is a cheap political ploy which the genocidal regime in Khartoum has devised to tarnish the image of the Justice and Equality Movement. However, the National Congress Party elements, as always, had failed in their barmy dirty tasks. People have thought it was incumbent upon Waging Peace to exercise responsibility of being impartial when passing judgements on such sensitive issues. JEM wants to make its position abundantly clear that it has managed to attract into its membership enough number of brave and able adults to stand steadfast, defend and fight for the noble cause of the people of Sudan in Darfur. JEM, therefore, does not need to ever resort to use child soldiers.

In order to shed some light on the plight of children in Sudan under the reign of the National Congress Party (NCP) regime, it is worthwhile to obtain background information. Numbers of children on the streets of Khartoum have started to increase rapidly ever since the early 1980s, when many families moved there to escape the war in southern Sudan and the drought afflicting the western regions of Kordofan and Darfur. Two-thirds of the street children in Khartoum the National Capital of Sudan are estimated to sniff petrol-based tyre repair glue.Available data on child labour and street children in Sudan suggests that the number of street children in northern Sudan was around 70000 by the end of the year 2002, with 73% of these living in the streets of Khartoum. Boys make up around 86% of those on the streets, and girls 14%. According to Sudanese Juvenile Law (1983), “Vagrant is the boy or girl under 18 years who is vulnerable to delinquency, homeless or unable to show the way to his/her resident caretaker, or unable to give sufficient information about himself/herself.” They are considered a vagrant if they spend the night on the street, abandon their parents/guardians, engage in begging, prostitution or other ‘immorality’, or if they associate with suspected criminals. According to the Temporal Decree of Public Control Law of Khartoum State 1996, street children are defined more concisely as ‘a person who has no apparent resident place or apparent work for gaining’. It is noteworthy that both legal definitions assume children to go onto the streets according to their own will, without any consideration of the causes that may push them to do so. Social definitions are slightly different, and recognise the distinction between children on the street (who return home at night) and children of the street (who struggle alone without family support). They are often referred to as ‘abandoned’ children. Violence, kidnapping, family separation or disability as well as drought, floods, famine and disease have all had a negative impact on Sudan’s children. Among others factors, civil wars and inequitable socio-economic structure are considered the main root causes of the street children phenomenon in Sudan.

The Government of Sudan (GOS) is famous for recruiting children as soldiers in its armed forces during the wars it waged against its own citizens. In August 2006 the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the practice of recruiting child soldiers in Sudan in a report to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) implicating the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in child recruitment in southern Sudan, in Khartoum, and in child abduction and sexual violence in Darfur. His report said this continued despite peace deals in southern Sudan and the western Darfur region. The report also said sexual and other violence against children by army and militia groups persisted in southern and western Sudan. Mr Annan urged the leaders of Sudan’s Government of National Unity and the regional government of southern Sudan to end child recruitment. He added saying:” The current peace processes in Darfur and southern Sudan offer a real opportunity for the leaders of the Sudan to end the practice of recruitment and use of children once and for all." Furthermore, Mr Annan’s report stated that the National and Southern governments are directly accountable for violations by individuals under their command.

The children shown on the Sudanese television screen after 10th May 2008 were the victims of the wars kindled by the ruling genocidal National Congress Party (NCP) regime in Khartoum, the entity that deprived those children of their parents, economic and social rights and turned their lives upside down. Haphazardly dumping charges and passing fiery unsubstantiated judgements is reprehensible. It is incumbent upon the Waging Peace Agency to perfect its homework prior to hurriedly declaring unfounded allegations based on a pack of lies against JEM. 13 heads and leaders of all the refugee camps in eastern Chad made a strong statement in which they condemned the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the Waging Peace Organisation for the deplorable allegation that Sudanese refugees have been engaged in child trafficking and crimes of moral turpitude selling blood of their children to the armed movements in exchange for food and sustenance. Furthermore, they discredited what has been reported by the Waging Peace agency about child trafficking in camps for Sudanese refugees in Chad as totally groundless and added it has nothing to do with reality and has no existence except in the imagination of the government and delusions of some organizations with profane purpose
affiliated falsely to humanitarian work.

Analysts believe that Waging Peace has made colossal error in judgement and it was wrong. It does indeed need to prove its allegation or it owes JEM a written apology. Would Waging Peace Do That? That is a sixty-four dollar ($64) question awaits an answer.

Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is the Deputy Chairman of the General Congress for Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). He can be reached at mahmoud.abaker@gmail.com.

Juba’s street children survive at risk of HIV



Misinformed about HIV and vulnerable to it – © IRIN

 
Juba’s street children survive at risk of HIV

 
Misinformed street children are increasingly at risk of sexual abuse and HIV in South Sudan’s capital.

 
JUBA – In the marketplaces of Juba, South Sudan’s capital, young boys chant: "Washing feet, washing feet!" Others simply stand with their hands out, asking repeatedly for "a little money" or "a bit of food".

These children, who sleep on the steps of buildings or in abandoned market stalls, are the fallout of the 21-year civil war that split their region apart; many of them can barely remember the families they were torn from by the violence that engulfed their villages, forcing them to run.

Nobody knows exactly how many children are living on Juba’s streets, and few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are working with them; there is no social service in place to help them locate their families or assist with family reintegration.

Relief workers in the area say that with little or no family support, no education and no protection, street children are increasingly at risk of sexual abuse and HIV.

James Mabior*, 15, is wiry and small for his age. He said that his family had fled the fighting in their village, but his mother had died shortly after arriving in Juba and his father was an alcoholic.

"My father was beating me at home – whenever I did a mistake he beat me. He told me that he was sick with malaria and he left to go back to our village," he said. "After that there was nobody to care for me so I came to the market." He had been living on the streets for at least three years.

Begging and scavenging food

Like the other boys he lives with in Konya Konya Market, Mabior survives by begging and scavenging food from local restaurants. He does not go to school and has no access to even the most basic of healthcare facilities.

One of the main dangers faced by homeless boys and girls is the sexual predators. "Sometimes it happens that men come and look for boys for sex; they are looking for boys and girls, but where I stay there are only boys," Mabior said.

"It is a mixture: Arabs, southerners, soldiers from all over … some boys will go straight away for the money, others will resist and refuse, but this means they can get beaten." He said the children earned between US$0.05 and $0.10 for providing sexual services.

No idea of how HIV is spread

Although Mabior had heard of HIV, he had no real understanding of how it is spread, or the dangers posed by unprotected sex.

"I can get it [HIV] from eating rotten food; this is the only way I know that you catch it," he said. "Nobody in my family ever informed me about this thing … I left school a long time ago and am willing to go back, but I can’t because I have no money."

Ben Poggo*, who lives in Juba’s Crown Market, said, "I have heard of HIV; if you have it you will slim up. AIDS comes through dirty things – you must keep clean and wash so that you don’t get it, but for us to keep clean on the streets is hard."

Mary Isaac runs the Living Water Children’s Home, a centre for 37 boys who used to live on the streets. "Boys living on the streets have no protection and are vulnerable to sexual abuse by many people," she said.

"There is only one NGO doing educational work with these children in a very limited capacity, and the numbers of children are growing daily. Many are too scared to seek out help, and will not talk about the abuse they suffer."

Street children particularly vulnerable to HIV

Rev Benjamin Lokio Lemi, head counsellor at Juba’s voluntary counselling and HIV testing centre, told IRIN/PlusNews that street children were particularly vulnerable to HIV because they lacked knowledge about transmission and few knew their status or went for treatment.

"There needs to be a campaign to raise awareness of HIV amongst children living on the streets; children need to be encouraged to know their status so they can avoid risky behaviour," Lemi said. "But testing is voluntary, and they will only come forward to be tested if they have been educated."

The government of South Sudan is developing legislation that will put in place systems for the care and protection of vulnerable children, including street children, and police in the region have received some training on child protection.

*Names have been changed

SUDAN: Juba’s street children survive at risk of HIV

SUDAN: Juba’s street children survive at risk of HIV



Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
A street boy sleeps rough in one of Juba’s markets

JUBA, 25 June 2007 (IRIN) – In the marketplaces of Juba, South Sudan’s capital, young boys chant: "Washing feet, washing feet!" Others simply stand with their hands out, asking repeatedly for "a little money" or "a bit of food".

These children, who sleep on the steps of buildings or in abandoned market stalls, are the fallout of the 21-year civil war that split their region apart; many of them can barely remember the families they were torn from by the violence that engulfed their villages, forcing them to run.

Nobody knows exactly how many children are living on Juba’s streets, and few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are working with them; there is no social service in place to help them locate their families or assist with family reintegration.

Relief workers in the area say that with little or no family support, no education and no protection, street children are increasingly at risk of sexual abuse and HIV.

James Mabior*, 15, is wiry and small for his age. He told IRIN/PlusNews that his family had fled the fighting in their village, but his mother had died shortly after arriving in Juba and his father was an alcoholic.

"My father was beating me at home – whenever I did a mistake he beat me. He told me that he was sick with malaria and he left to go back to our village," he said. "After that there was nobody to care for me so I came to the market." He had been living on the streets for at least three years.

Begging and scavenging food

Like the other boys he lives with in Konya Konya Market, Mabior survives by begging and scavenging food from local restaurants. He does not go to school and has no access to even the most basic of healthcare facilities.

One of the main dangers faced by homeless boys and girls is the sexual predators. "Sometimes it happens that men come and look for boys for sex; they are looking for boys and girls, but where I stay there are only boys," Mabior said.

"It is a mixture: Arabs, southerners, soldiers from all over … some boys will go straight away for the money, others will resist and refuse, but this means they can get beaten." He said the children earned between US$0.05 and $0.10 for providing sexual services.

No idea of how HIV is spread

Although Mabior had heard of HIV, he had no real understanding of how it is spread, or the dangers posed by unprotected sex.

"I can get it [HIV] from eating rotten food; this is the only way I know that you catch it," he said. "Nobody in my family ever informed me about this thing … I left school a long time ago and am willing to go back, but I can’t because I have no money."

''Sometimes it happens that men come looking for boys for sex…some boys will go straight away for the money, others will resist and refuse, but this means they can get beaten.''

Ben Poggo*, who lives in Juba’s Crown Market, said, "I have heard of HIV; if you have it you will slim up. AIDS comes through dirty things – you must keep clean and wash so that you don’t get it, but for us to keep clean on the streets is hard."

Mary Isaac runs the Living Water Children’s Home, a centre for 37 boys who used to live on the streets. "Boys living on the streets have no protection and are vulnerable to sexual abuse by many people," she said.

"There is only one NGO doing educational work with these children in a very limited capacity, and the numbers of children are growing daily. Many are too scared to seek out help, and will not talk about the abuse they suffer." 

Street treet children particularly vulnerable to HIV

Rev Benjamin Lokio Lemi, head counsellor at Juba’s voluntary counselling and HIV testing centre, told IRIN/PlusNews that street children were particularly vulnerable to HIV because they lacked knowledge about transmission and few knew their status or went for treatment.

''I can get HIV from eating rotting food; this is the only way I know that you can get it.''

"There needs to be a campaign to raise awareness of HIV amongst children living on the streets; children need to be encouraged to know their status so they can avoid risky behaviour," Lemi said. "But testing is voluntary, and they will only come forward to be tested if they have been educated."

The government of South Sudan is developing legislation that will put in place systems for the care and protection of vulnerable children, including street children, and police in the region have received some training on child protection.

*Names have been changed

Living on the Streets

Living on the Streets

(Photo: © Noel King/IRIN)

A dozen boys discuss the allure of glue and solvents during their time on the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Solvents made them braver when they attempted to pick pockets or pilfer from shops. The beatings the police administered hurt less when they were high. Their dreams were vivid and pleasant. Glue filled their empty stomachs for hours when a piece of bread would only stave off hunger for a few minutes.

"It makes you forget," Edward, 16, says.

The other boys nod in agreement. Edward, who doesn’t give his second name, has many things he would prefer to forget, including the death of his best friend, Bol, who got high a year ago, stumbled into the Nile for a nighttime swim and never emerged alive.The boys are just a sample of the thousands of children who live and work on Khartoum’s streets. Although there are no official numbers, the children are a common sight, sleeping in the markets, stealing what they can or taking petty jobs to make a little money, which is often spent on drugs.

At Bridge of Hope, a non-profit organization on the outskirts of Khartoum, they come to recuperate, to learn, and to rebuild shattered lives.

"These kids are like milk. You stir it and eventually the cream rises to the top," says founder Barbara Gouldsbury, who has worked with Sudanese street children for 13 years.

Gouldsbury, a former nurse, started Bridge of Hope in 2003 and works with 15 Sudanese staff, who teach and look after the 33 boys living at Lundin house, a residential center named for the Swedish family that donated the house. Another 45 boys are enrolled at Bridge of Hope’s school next door and 100 more turn up at the drop-in center where they are able to wash, eat, and play.

"Society creates street children and then punishes them for being street children," says Gouldsbury, who has often had to demand medical care for the boys after hospitals turn away even the desperately ill.

The majority of street children in Khartoum are southern Sudanese. Two million southerners, displaced by Sudan’s 21-year civil war, live in and around the capital. Many have settled in squalid camps, which is where many of the street children come from. They are children from families with absentee fathers and mothers who are too poor, too exhausted, or too traumatized to care for their children.

Four-year-old Hamdan, for example, was found sleeping in the garden of Lundin house after his brother was accepted into the refuge. The staff thought he was too young to be away from his mother and took him home. But Hamdan returned to the garden every night and was allowed to stay.

He is wary, but now enjoys the traditional dances the others have taught him. The wide-eyed, silent boy comes alive as he struts around the floor, stomping his feet.

Angelo was almost strangled by his mother. Gouldsbury found him in a gutter, emaciated and ill, a decade ago. Now, he is a grinning young man who has decided to move to the southern Sudanese town of Aweil to look for work.

Challenges

Working with the boys is full of challenges, primarily discipline, say the staff at Bridge of Hope.

"Some of them have lived in the market for years," says Ariath Alfred, who works at Lundin house. "They don’t like being told what to do."

But they learn, as is evidenced by the nighttime routine in which the boys are expected to iron their school uniforms, help prepare dinner, and finish their schoolwork.

The staff have their own reasons for accepting the low-paying position.

"When I see these street boys I know that if I had not had good care from my family, I would have become one of them," says Ariath.

Gouldsbury and her staff insist that all children blossom with proper care and offer the boys as proof. James, 21, lost his father in an accident. His mother could not take care of him. At nine, he was living on the streets, addicted to glue. Last month, after years of care with Bridge of Hope and another center, James passed his Sudan certificate and received a diploma.

Most of his classmates were five or six years younger than him, but that didn’t bother James at all.

"I look forward now to the future," he says. "I have nobody from outside the center to hold me up, but I have many brothers and sisters behind me that I have to hold up and support. I have to work hard so I can get a good job."

And they dream too. Edward says that when he was using glue he had a vivid fantasy of owning a luxurious car — a fantasy that almost sustained him. But Ariath interjects quietly.

"You can’t live your life in your imagination," he tells the boy.

Edward nods his head. He understands. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]