South Sudan: New Country Torn By Old Conflicts


The U.N. has reported that the number of people affected by the violence has doubled: first it was thought to be 60,000; now it's more like 120,000. The U.N. has engaged a "massive emergency" response to get food and water to them.

A Culture of Cattle Raids and Child Abduction

While Ibrahim and other child protection agencies worry about the level of violence and the massive numbers of children becoming displaced, the Lou Nuer and the Murle people have thrived off these cattle raids and abductions.

In some cases, the children can be used for ransom payments and seen as a commodity to be exchanged for more cattle.

A 2010 Rift Valley Institute report for the U.N. documenting child abductions in Jonglei stated, "We learned that the youth abduct the children and then give them to the chiefs. The chiefs then sell out the children and give a portion of the sale in cattle to the youth."

Abduction has become so engrained in the daily lives of these tribes, that Ibrahim says the children are often treated well by the "new" families who have bought the children.

"Even though they are sold, they are treated like children of the family. This is one of the reasons that there are not many children escaping," she said.

Returning Home, But Possibility of Recapture

In rare occasions, the children can be recovered by South Sudan's military, but mostly the children are reported missing and/or escape by themselves. Both government and other child protection services then have to sort out the legalities of returning the children back to their families.

"Right now there is a case of one child where 15 parents are claiming that this is their child," said Ibrahim. "This happens when the child is abducted very young."

Local officials in the town of Bor, Jonglei's capital, have made attempts at bringing the tribe's chiefs together to negotiate the return of children, but mostly it is coordinated through NGO programs.

When the children do return home, it is no guarantee of safety. Some children have escaped, only to be recaptured again.

Kakayo may have escaped the raid, but she has a long journey to recovery, and an even longer journey home. Doctors are unsure when she will be able to leave the hospital; they're predicting months. But lying on her rug on the tile floor, not knowing if her mother and siblings are even alive, Kakayo tells the doctor in no uncertain terms that when she is well, she will go home to find them.

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