SPLM releases 200 children in Nuba Mountains

By Lorena Carrillo
JULUD, Sudan
June 29, 2006

After two years spent in military barracks, Asha (not her real name), a Sudanese girl of barely 16, is finally going home.

Recently released from the 27th Brigade of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Asha, along with more than 200 other boys and girls, went through a demobilization programme supported by UNICEF and partners to prepare them for the future.

It all began when Asha’s mother was convinced that her daughter would get a better education in the Julud area in the Nuba Mountains, then controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. What she had not bargained for was that her daughter would have to join the SPLA.

Life in the military compound

Asha spent her days studying in the SPLA military compound, where children from 10 to 18 years of age would live and attend school for three to five years. At the same time she also had to cook, collect water and wash clothes for the officers. Although she never fought in battles, she received training in the use of small arms.

“Sometimes we would go to the field and handle the heavy guns, to be ready in case of an attack,” she recalled with fear written on her face.

After more than a year without news about Asha, her mother missed her and decided to find her. Relatives in Julud told her they had seen Asha at the military compound and she went there to inquire, but the militias wouldn’t allow her to take her daughter home.

“They were mainly trained as stand-bys but not used in active combat,” argued one commander. “They were here to get education which is not available on the other side,” another added. The latter is the most common excuse used to explain the recruitment of children in Sudan.

Going home at last

In May, Asha’s mother received the good news - all children, including Asha, would be demobilized within two weeks. A total of 211 children would be going home soon, she was informed.

Finally, on 6 June, all children at the 27th Brigade were formally demobilized by the South Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission of the SPLA. Thirty who came from nearby villages went home by themselves; the other 181 started a journey to rejoin their families in Dilling, Lagawa, Kadugli, Julud and Khartoum.

The entire demobilization process was implemented by the SPLA commission with support from UNICEF - which previously had initiated a campaign advocating that all children associated with armed units be demobilized and reintegrated. UNICEF partner Save the Children US helped many demobilized children trace their families and offered life-skills training to help them start this new chapter.

“My mother and sisters are waiting for me in Dilling,” Asha said with joy in her eyes, riding home on a bus with six other girls.

But some of Asha’s friends are not as happy. Older and married to SPLA soldiers, they have no other choice but to stay at the compound.