THE LOST BOYS OF SUDAN
Since 1983, the Sudan People´s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the
Sudanese Government have been at war in southern Sudan. The conflict
has already claimed more than 500,000 lives nad displaced huge
numbers of people. Among these were at least 20,000 children,
mostly boys, between 7 and 17 years of age who were separated
from their families. These "lost boys" of the Sudan trekked enormous
distances over a vast unforgiving wilderness, seeking refuge from
the fighting. Hungry, fringhtened and weakened by sleeplessness
and disease, they crossed from the Sudan into Ethiopia and back,
with many dying along the way. The survivors are now in camps
in Kenya, the Sudan and Uganda.
This extraordinary exodus has its origins in traditional forms
of migration. After being initiated into manhood, young adolescent
boys in southern Sudan have generally been quite mobile. Organized
into small groups of their peers, they would leave home for a
period to look after cattle. Or they might head for the towns
or cities to go to school or to seek their fortune, before eventually
returning home. In addition, at times of stress families all over
Africa send their children elsewhere to find safety, food, work
But during the war this process has escalated dramatically. Fearing
they would be targeted as potential combatants, many boys left
their villages and headed for cities such as Juba and Khartum.
Here they hoped to find work or schooling, though as these cities
became saturated with migrants, the boys often had to resort to
begging or petty crime.
Others set out for refugee camps in Ethiopia. Some travelled with
friends or relatives, others slipped away on their own at night.
Few had any idea of what lay ahead of them. They believed the
trek would last only a few days and discovered that they faced
a harrowing journey of 6 to 10 weeks. Continually under threat,
they would flee for their lives, losing their way in the wilde
rness. Often they lost everything en route - blankets, sheets,
shoes, clothes and pots - to soldiers, swindlers or bandits. Many
fell victim to killer diseases. Others were so weakened by hunger
and lack of sleep that they could go no further and sat down by
the roadside - prey for lions and other animals.
The survivors who reached the camps in Ethiopia started to lead
a relatively peaceful life. But it was not to last. Following
the change of government in Ethiopia in May 1991 they had to flee
again, back to camps in the Sudan. This time the journey was during
heavy rains, and many perished crossing the swollen rivers or
were hit by aerial bombardment. The luckier ones made it to a
camp where they received help from the International Committee
of the Red Cross.
This relative security was shattered again late in 1991 when fighting
erupted around them, and they and children from other camps were
on the move once more, eventually heading for Kenya.
Since 1992, UNICEF has managed to reunite nearly 1,200 boys with
their families. But approximately 17,000 remain in camps in the
region. The harsh memories remain as well. As 14-year-old Simon
Majok puts it: "We were suffering because of war. Some have been
killed. Some have died because of hunger and disease. We children
of the Sudan, we were not lucky."
The State of The World´s Children 1996, UNICEF
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