Face-to-face with child soldiers told to rape and kill in South Sudan | World News
Sky News has been given special access to child soldiers in the east-central African country of South Sudan – and found worrying signs that some may return to fighting if conditions don’t improve soon.
Our inquiries also found repeated examples of rape being used as a weapon of war, and we have also spoken to the child soldiers ordered to carry out those rapes.
A peace deal and ceasefire agreed by the warring parties last year is still holding, prompting hundreds of child recruits to run away from their captors, while others have been freed. But a further 19,000 children are estimated to still be in captivity in the bush working for the different militias.
The UN special representative for South Sudan, David Shearer, told Sky News he believed the different fighting units were still recruiting children in an attempt to shore up their positions and bargaining power as the country tries to manage the peace after five years of civil war.
It comes after South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation after gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 following decades of conflict.
Two years later, the country descended into fighting again when civil war broke out between different ethnic groups after President Salva Kiir accused his deputy Riek Machar of attempting to overthrow him in a coup.
Many of the children we spoke to told us horrifying tales of multiple rapes. At a rehabilitation centre we were shown in Yambio, many of the young women had babies conceived after the rapes. Many of the girls – some of who were as young as 13 – spoke of gang rapes on a regular basis.
One young woman, who spent a year with one of the militia groups who have been battling for political power, gave us a graphic report of how the girls were beaten if they tried to resist.
“If you refuse, they will tie you and they will beat you and also at the same time, they will rape you,” she said. “After raping you, they will tie you, they leave you, and they go. That’s how they [are] used to do their things there.”
Those raped and those who were ordered to carry out the rapes are now training side by side in a rehabilitation centre in Yambio designed to teach them new skills and provide extensive counselling.
We were shown the boys being taught bricklaying skills, while the girls were sitting, with their babies on their laps, learning rudimentary sewing skills.
One young man confessed he was ordered to rape girls and admitted he carried out those orders, forcing himself on four different females. He looked down at the floor as I asked him questions and said he felt “very bad” now, since contracting syphilis and gonorrhoea.
Another who said he was only 17 but had been with a militia for the past three years, laughed and smiled while he admitted he “only” carried out beatings and killings but stopped short of raping.
When asked about how many people he had killed, he laughed once more, adding: “I don’t know the total… I never know the total.”
Many of the young women astonishingly spoke of forgiving their rapists.
“I don’t wish any bad on him,” said one 18-year-old – who we will call Sarah. Another told us she felt blessed to have given birth to a daughter in spite of her being conceived as a result of violent and unwanted sex.
They all spoke of the hope that the peace deal would hold. After their childhoods have been snatched away from them, hope is the one emotion they are clinging on to.