Malnutrition of Child Soldiers in South Sudan

By Manhombut Wenbur, Juba

South Sudan government accused by the Human Right Watch for using children to fight the war in Bentiu(Photo: vice)

South Sudan government accused by the Human Right Watch for using children to fight the war in Bentiu(Photo: vice)

December 4, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — Manut Mayar Deng was only 14-years-old when he joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – Deng says it was in 2008, and he didn’t join by choice.

Aside from the traumatization all soldiers face – specifically child soldiers – during wartime. There are also issues of malnutrition and with an alleged increase in the recruitment of children between the ages of 14-17 on both the army (SPLA) and Rebels the issue continues to grow.

According to the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF), malnutrition rates for children involved in the armed conflict are at a critical or serious level in most parts of the country.

However, in June the Government formally signed its recommitment to an action plan – which had originally been signed in 2009 by the SPLA – which outlines 18 measures the Sudan People’s Liberation Army needs to put in place in order make its Army free of child soldiers and to end grave violations against children in accordance with international humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Even with this recommitment, there are still reports that the recruitment of child soldiers continues.

Mayar suggested that if he were to have resisted joining, he believes would have been beaten until he agreed,

“The condition we use to be in was [a] harsh environment from both our trainers and other adult people who were with us in the camps for training,” Mayar said.

Mayar added that those in charge would use them as a source of labor, for activities like washing their clothes, collecting firewood, patching water and cooking food for the facilitators. Mayar said he used to spend two to three days without eating and was lucky if he was able to eat maize grain.

“They even transferred us to Uganda for further training, and in training we still do all sorts of hard work for the senior officers.”

Mayar says that, that while some children were able to escape – many did not make it due to lack of food and water, others he says were killed by landmines. At the same time, many of the young recruits never made it through training, some died after being seriously injured. Others may have died because of malnutrition. Mayar describes that being in the army as a child soldier feels like a punishment.

While Mayar represents an era pre-dating independence, 17-year-old John Danis Emmanuel – says he joined the SPLA in 2014.

He was legally underage for fighting, but in the aftermath of 15 December Danis said, “I joined the SPLA willingly with the aims of getting relief, but it has turned worst than the life I was in”, adding in March 2014 he was taken to Ayod county in Jonglei to fight with other members of the white army which he described as being “full of child soldiers” in the name of protecting the nation.

“While in Ayod, life is hard because many soldiers are feeding only on the bush-meat and it is something that one may eat and spend two days only to push for another sunlight day to raise,” said Danis.

Danis confirmed that their salaries are been deducted for unknown reasons and said that if a soldier inquires as to why the deductions are taking place – they are typically told that it is for a food allowance — despite the fact that they sometimes wait for several months before being paid. Adding that because of the lack of food, soldiers will sometimes use what little money they have to buy their own. “We even buy some stuff like local made popcorn and other local fruits as the source of diet by ourselves while in a deployed areas which cannot add any food value in my body.”

There have been positive promises made by top officials to curn the use of child soldiers including Kuol Manyang Juuk, the Minister of defense and Veteran Affairs who stated:

“The Government of South Sudan will no longer allow children to join the Military,” adding “Children should be learning how to read and write, not carry weapons – we known education will make us better as a nation.”

Manyang said the government has taken some steps, including issuing punitive orders for all SPLA commanders to stop deploying children; disseminating radio messages by the ministry of Defense and submitting legislative amendments to the ministry of Justice to apply sanction to the recruitment of children by army commanders.

This has the attention of the international community as well.

“It’s encouraging to see government is taking steps to protect the country’s children and the United Nation will continue to support them,” said Ms. Leila Zerrougui the special representative of the secretary- General for children and armed conflict during her visit in to the Country.

Adding that the both parties involved in the conflict are using child soldier and they have become pawns in a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his deputy-turned-rebel-leader, Riek Machar, which has largely broken along ethnic lines. Last month, the government of South Sudan promised for the third time to implement a UN action plan to protect children from recruitment and put an end to the use of children in the army.

The author can be reached at manhombutwenbur@gmail.com