Witnesses Report Use of Child Soldiers in Sudan’s Conflict
The battle to control the Sudanese Armed Forces’ (SAF) Al Shajara Armored Corps base in southeast Khartoum cost dozens of lives and revealed a disturbing new aspect of the ongoing fight between the country’s two warring generals. Among the dead were child soldiers fighting for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Since that battle in August, the specter of children fighting and dying in Sudan’s conflict has begun to receive more attention. In September, the SAF released 30 child soldiers to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The children were among 230 captured during battles with the RSF, the paramilitary group whose general, known as Hemedti, is the bitter rival of SAF Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. The two men launched their fight for supremacy over Sudan on April 15.
“Unaccompanied children and children from poor families are allegedly targeted by RSF in the outskirts of Khartoum, as well as in Darfur and West Kordofan, for recruitment into combat roles,” Siobhán Mullally, the United Nations special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, said in a statement condemning the practice.
“The recruitment of children by armed groups for any form of exploitation — including combat roles — is a gross violation of human rights, a serious crime and a violation of international humanitarian law,” she added.
Sudan War Monitor reposted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, an RSF video showing at least two gun-toting teenagers among a group of fighters mugging for the camera at Idriss Basic School for Girls in Omdurman.
The presence of children on the battlefield is nothing new for Sudan. International observers have reported for decades the recruitment of children as soldiers along with many more violations of international law intended to protect children caught up in conflicts, according to Alison Bisset, an associate professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Reading.
“The problem is not an absence of relevant international legal frameworks, but the refusal of states and other warring parties to abide by them,” Bisset wrote recently for the website Just Security.
Human rights groups estimate that more than 1 million children have been displaced by the fighting between the SAF and the RSF.
Young people lacking basic necessities like food find themselves drawn to armed groups as a means of survival, Nyala-based journalist Ahmed Gouja told Arab News. Gouja said two of his cousins younger than 18 have joined the RSF.
Along with children being recruited as fighters, the U.N.’s Mullaly reported that girls from Khartoum have been abducted and taken to Darfur for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.
According to Radio Dabanga, witnesses reported that the children fighting at Al Shajara had been recruited from Darfuri and other marginalized populations living in Khartoum. Some of the fighters were as young as 14.
The advocacy group Youth for Darfur has confirmed the presence of child soldiers through videos published on social media channels. The group has urged parents to safeguard their children against what Youth for Darfur describes as the RSF’s coercive practices.
Youth for Darfur Director Ahmed Abdallah told Radio Dabanga that the act of enlisting children is “tantamount to a war crime.” He accused the RSF of engaging in the practice since the beginning of its conflict with the SAF.
The Darfur Bar Association has expressed concern about reports of children also being used by the army after reporting the presence of possible child soldiers at an SAF base.
“The deteriorating humanitarian situation and lack of access to food and other basic services make children, especially unaccompanied and separated children on the streets, easy targets for recruitment by armed groups,” Mullally said.