Juba, South Sudan, 27 May 2021 – Abduction of children in the Pibor Administrative Area has become a source of livelihood according to David Yau Yau.
Yau Yau, who previously served as the Pibor Chief Administrator says children are abducted and sold for cattle.
“Well, it has, of course, become a business. If someone gets a child from the neighboring community, he’s going to take the child to the market. It has become a part of livelihood,” Yau Yau said in a documentary filmed by Vice News.
Once a leader of Cobra Faction, a now-defunct armed insurgency against the government of South Sudan infamous for recruiting child soldiers, Yau Yau says it was time for a transition to a new era and that the practice of child abduction should come to an end.
“We surrendered everything – you know; the children were demobilized. You know people like Paul who was in the Bible – he used to be a bad man, originally. But eventually, when he was called by God, he became a strong preacher that changed a lot of lives. And he did a lot of destruction before,” he said, referring to his past actions.
“We realized that it was totally wrong so we need to apply all the efforts to be able to bring back children and return [them] to their owners,” said the former warlord adding that since 2018, the administration of Pibor managed to recover 54 children across the neighboring communities.
Two child abductees, Patrick Jada Tongun and Patrick Omiyan were abducted from their families in 2008 when they were just 8 years old.
“They took us to be their children. They didn’t say anything. They just caught me and took me,” Omiyan, who escaped soon after his abduction, recalled.
Patrick Jada Tongun on the contrary was unlucky. He was sold by his captors for 50 herds of cattle. He spent ten years with them before he was allowed to get to the cattle market where he would escape.
“We were friends [with Omiyan] until we were abducted. When they took me, they said my mother raised me for this new woman. That woman you called ‘mother’, she is dead,” Tongun remembers.
“The day they took me we were going to wash our school uniform on Sunday. Suddenly, we looked around, that day we were many and one of us said, “look, those men are coming for us”.
“They were six men, they broke into three pairs and surrounded us. We tried to run away but they caught one of us. I tried to escape but they caught me too,” Tongun narrated.
While at the cattle camp, Tongun said “I thought about my father, my mother, and my family. I wondered if I would ever meet them again.”
It was after his captors allowed him to get cattle to the market when Tongun found his way out.
“I came from there, from Gumbo Suuk all by myself. I knew our house because it was built when I was still there. And I knew my family’s shop,” he said.
He added “My mother asked, “Who’s this?” I said it’s Jada. She asked, “Jada who?” I said, Jada Monjo. “We thought you were dead,” he said in reference to the mother.
Leaving his place of birth at the age of eight and coming back a decade later, Tongun faced the challenge of reintegrating back into the community.
“They speak in Arabic and the local language. I can’t understand things. I would have benefited from school had I not been taken. I would have finished school,” he lamented.
Allan Jager, one of the child abductors says they abduct children in retaliation to what other neighboring communities do to them.
“I’m always worried about my children. People come to shoot us and take our children,” Jager said with his AK47 leaned on the limb.
“Didn’t you see my gun? It’s for protecting my children and cattle. It’s all because of war and hunger. They take our children, so, we’re going to take theirs,” he said.
Jager said the community does not have a proper institutional set that enables children to learn and keep themselves busy.
“We don’t have a farm. We also don’t have good places to work. And no way to pay for our kids’ schools. I hunt to feed my children,” he explained.
“We weren’t the ones who started. They take our kids and we take theirs in retaliation so that they bring our kids back,” Jager clarified.
However, Jager said buying a person for 40 herds of cattle was almost empirically impossible adding that all Murle people have repented and no longer taking part in child abduction.
“No one has 40 cattle to buy someone, no one. I don’t know anyone who bought someone, all Murle are becoming Christians,” said the unsmiling Jager.