Sudan conflict poses threat of long-term societal harm as recruitment of child soldiers surges

Special Severe and widespread poverty in Sudan has driven many children into the arms of the rival factions locked in a violent power struggle in Khartoum and other cities since April 15. (Supplied)
Severe and widespread poverty in Sudan has driven many children into the arms of the rival factions locked in a violent power struggle in Khartoum and other cities since April 15. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 September 2023
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Sudan conflict poses threat of long-term societal harm as recruitment of child soldiers surges

Sudan conflict poses threat of long-term societal harm as recruitment of child soldiers surges
  • Monitors say children as young as 14 are being recruited to fight by both sides of ongoing conflict
  • Experts say armed groups are luring children to serve as soldiers with money and false promises

NAIROBI, Kenya: Child soldiers are being recruited by both sides in Sudan’s ongoing civil war, a cruel practice that threatens to destroy the fabric of the country.

Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, is now a war zone where child soldiers are actors in a nightmarish script. Recent clashes between the Rapid Support Forces and El-Shajara Armored Corps have exposed the horrors Sudanese children must endure, with witnesses reporting instances of child soldiers fighting on both sides.

The scale of recruitment of child soldiers in Sudan is alarming. Stories from across various regions reveal a systematic pattern of exploitation transcending both tribal lines and political affiliations.

The two main warring factions in the country, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the RSF, are both implicated. Witness testimonies depict a disturbing narrative of coercion, fear, and manipulation, in which children are often forced into combat against their will or lured with promises of material or monetary gain.




Witness testimonies depict a disturbing narrative of coercion, fear, and manipulation, in which Sudanese children are often forced into combat against their will or lured with promises of material or monetary gain. (Supplied)

“The root causes of child soldier recruitment in Sudan are multifaceted,” Ahmed Gouja, a journalist from the town of Nyala in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region, told Arab News.

Severe and widespread poverty has driven many children into the arms of the militias.

“Young people, often lacking access to basic necessities like food and a promising future, find themselves drawn to armed groups as a means of survival,” Gouja said.

Gouja personally knows many young men in Nyala who have joined the RSF. Two of his cousins have already joined the paramilitary group’s ranks; both are under 18, and neither has even completed their primary education.

The Darfur Bar Association is sounding the alarm about increasing child soldier recruitment in the war-ravaged African country. They explained that the RSF lures recruits using a combination of “money” and “false promises.” The paramilitaries have recruited children as young as 14 using these tactics.

“Such actions are considered war crimes, irrespective of whether conflicts are international or non-international,” the organization said in a recent statement.

FASTFACTS

Witness reports expose the alarming use of child soldiers in Sudan’s conflict.

Both sides in the internal conflict are recruiting children as combatants.

Children are lured into the hands of these militias through promises of money.

Despite that reality, conditions in Sudan are ripe for recruiting underage soldiers.

According to the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund, over one million children have been displaced by the fighting in recent months. Worse still, hundreds have lost their lives and thousands more suffered injuries.

There have also been reports of children’s bodies in mass graves and of sexual violence perpetrated against young girls.

The conflict has not spared civilian areas. Schools remain closed, children’s institutions have come under attack, and even vital healthcare facilities are subjected to looting and destruction. These dire circumstances make it harder for humanitarian agencies to provide much-needed aid to Sudan’s embattled civilian population.

The situation in El-Shajara is demonstrative of the mortal wound this conflict has afflicted upon Sudan. The name once belonged to a peaceful area along the White Nile in southwest Khartoum.




A grab from a UGC video posted on the X platform (formerly Twitter) on August 22, 2023 reportedly shows members of the Sudanese army firing at Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary fighters in what they say is the El-Shajara military base in Khartoum. (AFP/UGC/X Platform)

Since the onset of this conflict, however, El-Shajara is now associated with violence and despair. As warplanes soar overhead and explosions shatter the air, the echoes of a once-thriving neighborhood are drowned out by the cacophony of battle.

El-Shajara’s surreal transformation in the space of mere months serves as a grim testament to how conflict can rewrite the very geography of a nation.

The cynical and widespread use of child soldiers in this conflict will also have a negative and lasting impact on the African nation’s societal norms and values long after the guns eventually fall silent.

Experts explained to Arab News how manipulating children and exploiting their innocence to transform them into instruments of destruction is not merely a cynical war tactic, but a strategic assault on the very fabric of society. 

“Child soldiers are used to break down societal trust relations, as the whole idea of children becoming actors of killing, pillage, and destruction affects public psychology in a particular way that is much deeper and impactful,” Alpaslan Ozerdem, dean of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, told Arab News. 

“Conflict parties tend to see child soldiers as dispensable and force them to act in some of the cruelest aspects of their violence, as they tend to carry out orders without question,” Ozerdem said.




Alpaslan Ozerdem

He added that children can also infiltrate communities without raising much suspicion, which can also influence some of the violent strategies employed in such environments.

For Gouja, the journalist from Nyala, “the recruitment isn’t driven primarily by tribalism as one might expect, but rather by the education system’s influence and the ideological mindset present in the country.”

He also stressed that “tackling poverty is crucial; and offering better prospects for a future outside armed groups can weaken their appeal.”

Nevertheless, other observers maintain that tribal pride plays a vital role in the Sudan conflict, with children coerced into joining armed groups to prove their machismo.

Over time, these children develop deep loyalties for their commanders and undergo profound psychological manipulation. The socialization processes that unfold after induction become the adhesive binding these fragmented lives into a cohesive group.




People run past a military vehicle in Khartoum on April 15, 2023, amid reported clashes in the city. - Sudan's paramilitaries said they were in control of several key sites following fighting with the regular army on April 15, including the presidential palace in central Khartoum. (AFP/File)

Yet, access to any form of psycho-social assistance is often a distant prospect for these child soldiers. Even when integrated into formal reintegration processes, access to such help remains limited. Even when integrated into formal reintegration processes, access to such help remains limited.

More troublingly, these children are unlikely to opt for psychological support when offered, given the false perception that such help is an affront to the very masculinity they are being forced to adopt and prove.

“Central to the discourse of child soldier reintegration is the delicate balance between recognizing their agency and avoiding the pitfalls of infantilization or demonization,” Ozerdem said.

In his view, the pendulum swings between perceiving these children as vulnerable and powerless and deserving of protection to fearing their potential for violence and harm, thus viewing them as a threat.

“This dichotomy shapes reintegration policies, often casting them either as passive victims or imminent threats,” Ozerdem added.




In this photo taken on February 7, 2018, child soldiers attend a ceremony in Yambio, South Sudan, during a launch by the United Nations of a program to help reintegrate into society tens of thousands of children who were forced to fight in opposing armed groups. The horrors of the war in South Sudan is now being repeated in Sudan as rival armed forces fight it out for control of the impoverished North African country. (AFP/File photo)

Most importantly, these dire circumstances are often exploited to create a narrative that paints these conflict zones as places where the very essence of humanity is lost.

“This narrative further perpetuates a divisive dichotomy, pitting the image of ‘uncivilized locals’ against the perception of benevolent ’guardian angels’ from the West,” Ozerdem said.

“This framing not only oversimplifies the complex dynamics of these conflicts but also amplifies a sense of urgency within the international community to justify their military interventions.”

More generally, the use of child soldiers in armed conflicts is a distressing phenomenon that continues to haunt regions plagued by disorder and unrest.

The cruel practice has gained alarming traction in Africa, in particular. From the Central African Republic to Nigeria, the presence of child soldiers is a tragic constant in the continent’s many conflicts.

 

 


Afghan Taliban govt says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks

Afghan Taliban govt says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks
Updated 3 sec ago
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Afghan Taliban govt says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks

Afghan Taliban govt says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks
  • Mujahid told local media on Sunday the decision had been made to send a delegation, the members of which would be announced later, because it was deemed “beneficial to Afghanistan”
KABUL: Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in the Qatari capital, a government spokesman told AFP on Sunday, after snubbing an invitation to the previous round.
“A delegation of the Islamic Emirate will participate in the coming Doha conference. They will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position,” Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said of the talks, which are scheduled to start June 30.
The participation of the Taliban authorities in the two-day conference of special envoys on Afghanistan had been in doubt after they were not included in the first round and then refused an invitation to the second round in February.
Mujahid told local media on Sunday the decision had been made to send a delegation, the members of which would be announced later, because it was deemed “beneficial to Afghanistan”.

Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal ‘consistent’ with principles of US plan, leader says

Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal ‘consistent’ with principles of US plan, leader says
Updated 16 June 2024
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Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal ‘consistent’ with principles of US plan, leader says

Hamas response to Gaza ceasefire proposal ‘consistent’ with principles of US plan, leader says
  • Egypt and Qatar said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan

CAIRO: Hamas’ response to the latest Gaza ceasefire proposal is consistent with the principles put forward in US President Joe Biden’s plan, the group’s Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised speech on the occasion of the Islamic Eid Al-Adha on Sunday.
“Hamas and the (Palestinian) groups are ready for a comprehensive deal which entails a ceasefire, withdrawal from the strip, the reconstruction of what was destroyed and a comprehensive swap deal,” Haniyeh said, referring to the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
On May 31, Biden laid out what he called a “three-phase” Israeli proposal that would include negotiations for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza as well as phased exchanges of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.
While Israel said Hamas rejected key elements of the US plan, a senior Hamas leader said that the changes the group requested were “not significant”.


Red Sea crisis intensifies economic strain on Yemenis ahead of Eid

Red Sea crisis intensifies economic strain on Yemenis ahead of Eid
Updated 16 June 2024
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Red Sea crisis intensifies economic strain on Yemenis ahead of Eid

Red Sea crisis intensifies economic strain on Yemenis ahead of Eid
  • Sales have decreased by 80 percent
  • Over 1.2 million civil servants have not received salaries in eight years, and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs

DUBAI: Yemen, suffering from nearly a decade of civil war, now faces an additional challenge: a crippled economy further strained by the escalating crisis in the Red Sea.

Market vendors in Sanaa’s Old City, the Al-Melh, claim that sales have decreased by 80 percent, according to a report by Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Shopkeepers attribute this decline to recent increases in sea shipping costs, which have driven up wholesale prices.

This situation reflects the broader economic crisis in Yemen, where rising sea shipping costs have increased prices across the board, making basic Eid essentials unaffordable for many. 

To help ease financial strain, an exhibition was organized in Al-Sabeen Park, where families were able to sell homemade goods. 

Despite these efforts, Yemen’s economic problems persist. According to the UN, the decade-long war has pushed millions into poverty. Over 1.2 million civil servants have not received salaries in eight years, and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. The Norwegian Refugee Council reports that four out of five Yemenis face poverty, and over 18 million people urgently need humanitarian aid.


Water crisis batters war-torn Sudan as temperatures soar

Water crisis batters war-torn Sudan as temperatures soar
Updated 16 June 2024
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Water crisis batters war-torn Sudan as temperatures soar

Water crisis batters war-torn Sudan as temperatures soar
  • The country at large, despite its many water sources including the mighty Nile River, is no stranger to water scarcity
  • This summer, the mercury is expected to continue rising until the rainy season hits in August

PORT SUDAN, Sudan: War, climate change and man-made shortages have brought Sudan — a nation already facing a litany of horrors — to the shores of a water crisis.
“Since the war began, two of my children have walked 14 kilometers (nine miles) every day to get water for the family,” Issa, a father of seven, said from North Darfur state.
In the blistering sun, as temperatures climb past 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), Issa’s family — along with 65,000 other residents of the Sortoni displacement camp — suffer the weight of the war between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
When the first shots rang out more than a year ago, most foreign aid groups — including the one operating Sortoni’s local water station — could no longer operate. Residents were left to fend for themselves.
The country at large, despite its many water sources including the mighty Nile River, is no stranger to water scarcity.
Even before the war, a quarter of the population had to walk more than 50 minutes to fetch water, according to the United Nations.
Now, from the western deserts of Darfur, through the fertile Nile Valley and all the way to the Red Sea coast, a water crisis has hit 48 million war-weary Sudanese who the US ambassador to the United Nations on Friday said are already facing “the largest humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet.”
Around 110 kilometers east of Sortoni, deadly clashes in North Darfur’s capital of El-Fasher, besieged by RSF, threaten water access for more than 800,000 civilians.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Friday said fighting in El-Fasher had killed at least 226.
Just outside the city, fighting over the Golo water reservoir “risks cutting off safe and adequate water for about 270,000 people,” the UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned.
Access to water and other scarce resources has long been a source of conflict in Sudan.
The UN Security Council on Thursday demanded that the siege of El-Fasher end.
If it goes on, hundreds of thousands more people who rely on the area’s groundwater will go without.
“The water is there, but it’s more than 60 meters (66 yards) deep, deeper than a hand-pump can go,” according to a European diplomat with years of experience in Sudan’s water sector.
“If the RSF doesn’t allow fuel to go in, the water stations will stop working,” he said, requesting anonymity because the diplomat was not authorized to speak to media.
“For a large part of the population, there will simply be no water.”
Already in the nearby village of Shaqra, where 40,000 people have sought shelter, “people stand in lines 300 meters long to get drinking water,” said Adam Rijal, spokesperson for the civilian-led General Coordination for Displaced Persons and Refugees in Darfur.
In photos he sent to AFP, some women and children can be seen huddled under the shade of lonely acacia trees, while most swelter in the blazing sun, waiting their turn.
Sudan is hard-hit by climate change, and “you see it most clearly in the increase in temperature and rainfall intensity,” the diplomat said.
This summer, the mercury is expected to continue rising until the rainy season hits in August, bringing with it torrential floods that kill dozens every year.
The capital Khartoum sits at the legendary meeting point of the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers — yet its people are parched.
The Soba water station, which supplies water to much of the capital, “has been out of service since the war began,” said a volunteer from the local resistance committee, one of hundreds of grassroots groups coordinating wartime aid.
People have since been buying untreated “water off of animal-drawn carts, which they can hardly afford and exposes them to diseases,” he said, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Entire neighborhoods of Khartoum North “have gone without drinking water for a year,” another local volunteer said, requesting to be identified only by his first name, Salah.
“People wanted to stay in their homes, even through the fighting, but they couldn’t last without water,” Salah said.
Hundreds of thousands have fled the fighting eastward, many to the de facto capital of Port Sudan on the Red Sea — itself facing a “huge water issue” that will only get “worse in the summer months,” resident Al-Sadek Hussein worries.
The city depends on only one inadequate reservoir for its water supply.
Here, too, citizens rely on horse- and donkey-drawn carts to deliver water, using “tools that need to be monitored and controlled to prevent contamination,” public health expert Taha Taher said.
“But with all the displacement, of course this doesn’t happen,” he said.
Between April 2023 and March 2024, the health ministry recorded nearly 11,000 cases of cholera — a disease endemic to Sudan, “but not like this” when it has become “year-round,” the European diplomat said.
The outbreak comes with the majority of Sudan’s hospitals shut down and the United States warning on Friday that a famine of historic global proportions could unfold without urgent action.
“Health care has collapsed, people are drinking dirty water, they are hungry and will get hungrier, which will kill many, many more,” the diplomat said.


UAE, Iran discuss bilateral relations

UAE, Iran discuss bilateral relations
Updated 16 June 2024
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UAE, Iran discuss bilateral relations

UAE, Iran discuss bilateral relations

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirats Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, had a phone conversation on Saturday with Iran's acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Bagheri Kani, to discuss the bilateral relations between the two countries.

During the call, they exchanged Eid Al-Adha greetings and explored ways to enhance cooperation that would serve the mutual interests of their countries and peoples, contributing to regional security and stability.

They also reviewed several issues of common interest, as well as recent developments in both regional and international arenas.