03/02/2015
Llyr Attala

Children among civilian armed groups

In addition to the recruitment of boys by established military forces, such as the SPLA and various SPLA factions, the use of underage children in civilian defense groups and militias has also continued to expand. The increased militarization of communities in South Sudan, particularly in the 1990s, played an important role in this. The arming of the Nuer White Army by Riek Machar and the Dinka Titweng and Galweng, or cattle guards, by the SPLA, expanded political violence into the civilian sphere.

At the same time the introduction of modern weapons also lowered the entrance re-quirements for youth engaging in violence and raiding, which used to be limited to men in their peak but now includes boys and men past their prime (Breidlid & Arensen 2014). While the UN definition of ‘youth’ is between 18-24, within these pastoral so-cieties, the definition has ballooned to include as much as a forty-year range, all who are expected to protect their community and therefore participate in violence (Rolandsen and Breidlid 2013). Once boys go through the initiation ceremony (fre-quently accompanied by various scarring patterns dependent on the ethnic group) they gain the benefits of being an adult in society, along with all the responsibilities and privileges this holds.

According to Douglas Johnson, among the Nuer “starting in the 1950s the age-sets have been initiated more frequently, and the age of initiates has declined to ages thirteen and fourteen in the 1970s and 1980s, largely due to fears on the part of fa-thers that scarification would be banned” (HRW 1994:14). In Upper Nile, Machar tried to ban scarification in the late 1980s and in some places he even penalized those who carried out the practice. Now the age of initiates can be as low as nine or ten, and could be pushed even earlier if the current conflict continues. Once boys receive the scarring they are deemed adults within society and therefore are involved in adult re-sponsibilities, like protecting the community. It also means that the adults, such as mothers, cannot tell the new ‘men’ what to do, and it is their own independent choice to participate or not . Much like the SPLA used the Red Army primarily for more mundane tasks, such as guards, the civilian groups also often assign the young boys different tasks than the full grown men. The expanding need for civilian fighters to participate in political conflicts in the 1990s, and now again in 2014, will likely continue to put pressure on younger boys to go through initiation earlier so that they can participate in conflict.

Breidlid, Ingrid Marie & Michael J. Arensen. 2014. “Demystifying the White Army: Nu-er armed civilians’ involvement in the South Sudanese Crisis.” Conflict Trends Issue 3, 2014. 32-38. (http://www.accord.org.za/images/downloads/ct/ct3_14_nuer_armed_civilians_involved_in_south_sudanese_crisis.pdf)

Human Rights Watch. 1994. “Sudan: The Lost Boys- Child Soldiers and Unaccompanied Boys in Southern Sudan.” Vol 6, No. 10. (https://db.tt/OjZU0ZRf)

Rolandsen, Øystein H. & Ingrid Marie Breidlid. 2013. “What is Youth Violence in Jonglei?”, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO (http://www.prio.org/Publications/Publication/?x=7067)

 

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