9 September 1995


Human Rights Watch charges that the Khartoum government turns a blind eye to Sudanese army and militia forces who capture southern and Nuba children and subject them to forced labor or slavery. In Children in Sudan: Slaves, Street Children, and Child Soldiers, Human Rights Watch criticizes the government for forcibly inducting boys as young as ten years for the army and tribal militias. The rebels are also condemned for underage recruitment; the Southern Sudan Independence Army (SSIA) rebels' recruitment and mistreatment of underage boys resulted in the deaths of forty-seven boys in the last six months of 1994.

The government also subjects street children to arbitrary arrest and detention without due process. "Many alleged street children are not street children at all, but were living with their families, and were captured while they were running errands such as going to market," said Lois Whitman, Director of Human Rights Watch's Children's Rights Project, "They are packed off to closed camps, without any effort to find out if they have families or where the families are." The relatives are forced to search for their missing children on their own, without any government assistance.

Army officers, soldiers, militia members and others operate with total impunity from government prosecution, although their conduct violates laws against kidnaping and forced labor. The government has failed to undertake any serious investigation of these egregious practices, despite offers of technical assistance from the United Nations.

Human Rights Watch calls upon the government of Sudan to commence serious investigations of reports of the kidnaping of children during military actions, and to investigate and prosecute officials and police officers who fail to enforce the criminal laws regarding child abuse, kidnaping, slavery, or forced or child labor. Human Rights Watch also urges the government to continue the positive step of family reunification programs for street children, conducted in conjunction with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and calls for the elimination of the street children's camps. All parties are urged to cease underage recruitment and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is urged to join in UNICEF family reunification programs, as the SSIA has done.

Citing testimonies from children who were held as slaves, Human Rights Watch charges that the children, stolen from their families during military raids by government forces on villages in the war zones, often are taken with the soldiers when they return to their homes in western and northern Sudan. There the children, threatened with beatings, do unpaid labor inside the house or herding animals. The report includes the testimony of a Dinka girl who was captured in a government raid in Bahr El Ghazal when she was six, and spent six years with a family that took her to northern Sudan. She was beaten, forced to go hungry, branded, and forced to work without pay for long hours doing housework and herding animals. She was given a new name and did not even recognize her older brother when he finally tracked her down. It took two more years of litigation to officially "free" her from her "master." A Dinka boy was captured by an army officer who took him and another Dinka boy to his home in Wad Medani, where they were beaten, sexually abused and forced to work as unpaid household servants for several years. Efforts to bring charges against the officer were thwarted when the police turned the boys over to the officer's friends and family, who threatened the boys.

Since 1992 the government has engaged in a campaign of "cleaning up" city streets by rounding up alleged street children, mostly from the displaced population, and sending them to special, state-run closed camps. Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, has a population of more than four million, almost half people displaced from the south and central Nuba Mountains by the war. What is worse, the state authorities running the cleanup campaign and the camps often do not pay attention to the children's protestations that they have families. One young man told Human Rights Watch that although he told the police and camp authorities that he had a job and a family, they ignored him. Another small child, about six years old when he was captured on his way to market, was too intimidated to tell the authorities that he had a family; nor did they ever ask, in the more than two years he has been kept in camps. Children have been separated for years, and remain separated, from their families, whose frantic search for their missing children is not assisted at all by the government.

The government also does not respect the religious freedom of the non-Muslim children in that it gives them a mandatory Islamic religious education in the camps, and violates the children's right to their own identity, including their name and thus tribal identification, when it renames some children with Arabic names.

The government has recently undertaken an internationally-funded pilot project in the camps designed to reunite children with their families. This family reunification project was conducted in the home for street girls in 1994, but even after the pilot project, there is still no due process for detained children. The camp authorities say that "the courts never interfere" with the camp, even when parents contest the capture of a child.

The government says it intends to expand the family reunification program to include the main boys' camp at Abu Doum, the largest of its closed camps, with about 650 boys. While the program could help reverse the practice of unjustly separating children from their families, it will not make up for the years they spent in substandard facilities, out of contact with their families, religion, and culture. Nor will it make up for the substantial amount of time and money that families have invested in searching for, and only sometimes finding, their lost children.

Underage children have been drafted as soldiers and into government-sponsored tribal militias, in violation of Sudanese law, which provides that only men eighteen years of age and older may be conscripted. Currently the international law standard is fifteen years, and even that standard has been violated.

In early 1995 there was widespread military conscription of young men involving a range of abuses, including the drafting of underage boys. Army officials, helped by members of the government's paramilitary Popular Defense Forces, set up checkpoints throughout the Khartoum area, and rounded up children as young as twelve. The minister of defense was called to the Transitional National Assembly to account for the unpopular forced recruitment campaign, which he justified because almost none of the young men who received conscription notices responded.

The army also forcibly drafted southerners in garrison towns to fight against their fellow southerners in the SPLA. Human Rights Watch interviewed a boy press ganged in January 1995 while bathing in the Nile near Juba. He and others were flown to Khartoum the same afternoon, without any notice to their families and without permitting them to prove their ages and student status. In this case and others, the right of non-Muslim child conscripts to freedom of conscience and religion was violated during the training period when they were subjected to forced conversion attempts, and when military trainers instructed and trained them as "holy warriors" and referred to the conflict as an Islamic "holy war" against the south in the civil war that started in 1983.

The rebel SPLA has long had a policy of separating boys from their homes and families for military training (and some education). Thousands of boys went to the Ethiopian refugee camps hoping for an education and received mostly military training in segregated facilities for "unaccompanied boys." The SPLA inducted boys as young as eleven into its ranks. The separation of unaccompanied boys from their families continued when the refugees fled back into Sudan in 1991. In 1993 UNICEF began a project to reunify willing unaccompanied boys in southern Sudan with their willing families. The SPLA never cooperated with UNICEF's family reunification program, preferring to keep the boys together and close to SPLA military facilities, to call them up when needed. Thus boys in "unaccompanied minors" schools in Eastern Equatoria were called up in 1994 and 1995, while the SPLA continued to recruit minors, a practice it denies. The "unaccompanied boys" under its control now number about 4,500.

Although the second rebel group, SSIA, cooperated with the UNICEF family reunification effort, unfortunately the SSIA did not stop underage recruitment. In 1993-94 it lured hundreds of boys from their homes in Upper Nile to go hundreds of kilometers south to Eastern Equatoria, on the pretext that they would get schooling there. Instead they received military training but little food and no medical attention. As their condition worsened the commander sent them to Lafon, the nearest U.N. relief site, for medical aid and food. But because the SSIA soldiers stole food intended for the boys, and the boys did not receive medical assistance to which they were entitled, forty-seven of them died in Lafon from July to December 1994. Subsequently the SSIA cooperated in a UNICEF family reunification program that airlifted hundreds of boys back to their homes in Upper Nile.

UNICEF has succeeded in reunifying only about 1,500 boys, all from SSIA areas, in the past three years. In 1995, hundreds of unaccompanied boys fled into Ethiopia, forced out by government refusal to grant humanitarian access to some SSIA areas where they lived.

The Sudan government has failed to live up to its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1926 Slavery Convention as amended, the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the 1930 International Labor Organization (ILO) Forced Labor Convention (No. 29) concerning Forced or Compulsory Labor, the 1957 ILO Convention (No. 105) concerning the Abolition of Forced Labor, the African Charter, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to prevent and punish such abuses.

The government of Sudan flatly denies all allegations of slavery and forced labor which have been made in various U.N. forums, including the ILO, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Children, the U. N. Commission on Human Rights, and the U.N. Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.


Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Sudan to:

--continue with the family reunification program;

--proceed to a total phase-out of the camps by stopping "collection" and random capture of children from the streets; reunify children presently in the camps with their families; and through an adequate and acceptable welfare program, assume responsibility for homeless children and those whose families could not be traced;

--investigate the allegations of ill-treatment of street children in the camps and punish those responsible;

--stop detaining street children unless they are suspected of committing a crime under the juvenile code and then are tried promptly with full due process rights, including notice to their families;

--continue to seek other, less drastic remedies for the problems of street children, that are consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child;

-ratify the African Convention on the Rights of the Child;

--take steps to put an immediate end to the abuse and capture of children during army and militia raids and their subsequent use in slavery-like conditions;

--order a halt to the capture or arbitrary detention of children and other civilians in war zones;

--investigate all reports of children held as servants, paid or unpaid, and reports of physical or sexual abuse, and prosecute those found responsible;

--investigate and prosecute officials and police officers who fail to enforce the criminal laws regarding child abuse, kidnaping, slavery, or forced or child labor, and consider increasing the penalties for those convicted of such failures to perform their duties;

--publicize such investigations and prosecutions as a means of deterrence;

--pass legislation outlawing unpaid employment of nonfamily members of whatever age;

--ratify the ILO Minimum Age Convention of 1973 (No. 138);

--prevent transportation by adults of unrelated children from state to state without appropriate authorization;

--cooperate fully with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the ILO, UNICEF, U.N. Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, and the U.N. Human Rights Commission's Special Rapporteur on Sudan in their investigations of the reported slavery-like abuses;

--refrain from using children under the age of eighteen as combatants, as provided for in Sudanese law, or in any capacity in military or militia structures, and prevent them from participating in such activities; and

--respect the freedom of conscience and religion of draftees by exempting all those who wish to be exempted from religious studies and religiously-oriented military exercises, slogans, and activities.

Human Rights Watch recommends that SPLM/A and SSIM/A:

--facilitate voluntary family reunification;

--cease all recruitment of children under the age of 18, including recruitment disguised as education;

--refrain from using children under the age of eighteen as combatants or in any capacity in military or militia structures, and prevent them from participating in such activities; and

--provide safe land and air access for the provision of humanitarian aid to the children of Sudan.

Human Rights Watch calls on UNICEF, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur on Sudan, and the ILO to monitor the application of the slavery and forced labor conventions to Sudan, and to send fact-finding missions to investigate the reported abuses and the mechanisms the government is employing to confront the problem.

Human Rights Watch further recommends that UNICEF and the ILO establish and fund programs effectively to promote the adoption of national legislation and implementing programs to ban child labor and slavery.

Human Rights Watch recommends that UNICEF and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conduct voluntary family reunification; where small groups of minors are separated from the larger tribe, efforts should be made to reunite them in the safest location, even if that means reuniting them outside Sudan or from one country of refuge to another. This task should receive the cooperation of all U.N. and nongovernmental (NGO) agencies.

Human Rights Watch researched most of this report during its first visit to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, pursuant to an invitation by the Sudan government. As agreed to by the government prior to the visit, Human Rights Watch privately scheduled and interviewed many nongovernmental agencies and persons, and even was able to visit two street children's camps without advance notice to the government. The private individuals and groups, however, requested anonymity because of fear of government reprisals.

Copies of Children in Sudan: Slaves, Street Children and Child Soldiers are available from the Publications Department, Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017 USA for $12.00 (domestic) and $15.00 (international).

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords. It is supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly. The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Cynthia Brown, program director; Holly J. Burkhalter, advocacy director; Robert Kimzey, publications director; Jeri Laber, special advisor; Gara LaMarche, associate director; Lotte Leicht, Brussels Office Director; Juan Mndez, general counsel; Susan Osnos, communications director; Jemera Rone, counsel; Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative; and Derrick Wong, finance and administration director. Robert L. Bernstein is the chair of the board and Adrian W. DeWind is vice chair. Its Africa division was established in 1988 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Janet Fleischman is the Washington director; Alex Vines is the research associate; Kimberly Mazyck is the associate; Alison DesForges, Bronwen Manby, Binaifer Nowrojee and Michele Wagner are consultants. William Carmichael is the chair of the advisory committee and Alice Brown is the vice chair. The Children's Rights Project was established in 1994 to monitor and promote the human rights of children around the world. Lois Whitman is the director and Mina Samuels is a consultant.

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