The lost boys of Sudan's civil war

Thousands of children were separated from their families and forced to become soldiers in a country ravaged by war

Share

 

Please donate to our appeal for child soldiers here.

“The one thing I remember is my parents,” says Abraham Kur Achiek. He cannot be sure what year he was born as the people who would know died while he was still a child. His hometown of Bor, in what is now South Sudan, has for most of his life been just fragments of memory.

He was either 11 or 12 years old when he left on foot amid the chaos of a bombing campaign. The youngster was separated from his parents, his brother and his two sisters. It was the beginning of the most harrowing of journeys, one undertaken by thousands of other southern Sudanese children who came to be known as the “lost boys”. Looking back now he thinks of it as the “end of childhood”.

Long, snaking trains of children walked out of what was Africa's largest country to escape the continent's longest civil war. Since its independence from colonial power, Britain, the unwieldy state that remained; comprising Muslims and Christians, riverine Arabs, herding tribes and a patchwork of black African peoples; had been at war.

By the late 1980s much of the south was in flames as a modern army and airforce was unleashed on villagers, in a vicious counterinsurgency against southern-led rebels. Abraham remembers walking for hundreds of kilometres, “often we didn't know the boy who was walking next to us,” going without food and water for days.

He remembers snatches of the ordeal, like his teeth falling out on the march from the River Nile to the Ethiopian border. Many of the children died. Some from comparatively mundane causes such as thirst or drowning in the powerful rivers they crossed on their trek. Others died in the most horrific circumstances, torn apart by lions or crocodiles.

Some, like Abraham, were not allowed to escape and were instead recruited into the rebellion to begin their nightmare anew. He was pressed into the ranks of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) which was fighting for independence for the black south from the Arab government in Khartoum.

“It was the worst thing that could happen in any life,” he says. “There are few people who could survive.”

Abraham did survive. He eventually fled the rebel army and made it to the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. It was there that he began to piece back together the life that had been taken from him. Eight years after last seeing him he learned that his father had died one of the bombardments. His mother had died soon after.

Over the next 10 years, as he struggled to survive and get an education along with tens of thousands of other refugees, living off handouts from the United Nations, he was able to piece together what happened to his siblings.

In separate trips back into Sudan he located and brought his two sisters back to Kakuma. Even though they were strangers who barely remembered each other, Abraham says “after such a long time, we became a family again”.

His brother, who had been six days old when he last saw him, was an 18-year-old fighter in the SPLA when Abraham found him and persuaded him to leave. He did not realise it at the time but a new career had begun in undoing some of the damage done by the war to lives like his own. In 2005 the warring sides signed a peace deal and Sudan has since split in two.

Today, Abraham works as a child protection officer for Unicef, the leading children's charity which The Independent is supporting in this year's Christmas Appeal which ends on Saturday. Money given by our readers is supporting the charity's work rescuing child soldiers in the Central African Republic, one of the country's where the problem of child soldiers is now greatest.

Abraham has been back to his homeland countless times and has persuaded hundreds of children to put down their arms, and their military commanders to allow them to do so. “I am able to understand them better than anyone,” he says of the boys he has helped to demobilise. “I tell them to come with me, to go to school. Otherwise you will miss your childhood, you will kill, or be killed.”

All Unicef's work with child soldiers in the CAR is funded by donations. Please be as generous as you can. Click here to donate. Text CHILD to 70030 to donate five pounds.

• £6 provides life-saving treatment for one child from fatal diarrhoea, pneumonia, or malaria, all diseases that the children are vulnerable to in the Central African Republic

• £15 pays for schooling for a child who has been rescued from an armed group – including providing all the books and stationary they need.

• £25 provides a child with all the essentials they need when they are first rescued. This ‘welcome kit’ includes clothes, underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a blanket, mattress, and mosquito net.

• £62 provides vocational training to a child released from armed groups, providing them with a sustainable future

• £103 trains a teacher to help former child soldiers continue their education

• £150 pays for psychological support for one child who has been rescued

• £300 can buy enough toys for a centre for 50 rescued children to play with, to help them regain their childhood by having fun again

• £516 can support one child for a whole month. This covers the cost of everything they need at the rehabilitation centre, including care from dedicated and experienced staff, food, counselling, education, vocational training, and the costs for family reunification

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss