Blog - ECHO in the field

Children in conflict endure an endless cycle of ‘tags’

Displaced, Orphaned and forced to be a ‘child soldier’

14/12/2012 – Uprooted from his home in Jonglei State in South Sudan due to war, Daniel Madol was forcibly recruited as a ‘child soldier’ by the then rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). It was 1991, and Madol was only eight years old. 

Today, 90 percent of the victims of conflicts are civilians – half of them children. Children are particularly vulnerable and exposed in conflicts, as they do not have resources of their own and often lack protection.

The European Union’s Nobel Peace Prize money, allocated to and topped up by its humanitarian department – ECHO, will be used to help children in conflict.

Madol eventually made it to Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee camp in 1992, after harrowing military training and a major food crisis in Ethiopia.  He did not know then that he would not be returning to his homeland. 

Conflicts often last several years and families can remain in refugee or internally displaced persons (IDP) camps for a very long time. Recent analyses[1]  show that the average stay in such camps is 17 years.

Many of the children of conflict have unwittingly collected the ‘tags‘ of war.  They often move through the years of protracted crises with no political solutions; fleeing their homes (Internally displaced person –IDP), seeking refuge in another country (refugee), orphan, child soldier, children of rape, survivors of sexual, physical abuse or torture.

Madol, now 27 years old, is one of the ‘Lost Boys’ of Southern Sudan[2] and has spent the last twenty years in Kakuma refugee camp and its environs.  He chose not to repatriate back to his homeland in 2008, when the situation calmed down in Southern Sudan and UNHCR offered to repatriate refugees from Kakuma.

“I have no family there and no connections to speak of, plus I know that life was and is very hard there, as many people have come back after being repatriated. ”

Madol’s is a story of one child, who suffered the very serious, long term and far-reaching consequences of war; an IDP, an orphan, a child soldier and now a refugee with a dream to study to be a pilot – “except that I do not have the money for that.”


Children born of rape

Patience[3] fled the escalating violence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) earlier this year, with her sister and brother-in-law, Bulambo[4]

Bulambo recounted “They tortured and raped my wife, my sister-in-law, they even raped me, after they killed my parents and set fire to our house.  I am not the man I used to be, I want to die.”

For the hundreds of thousands of Congolese fleeing their homes with the renewed fighting in DRC, rape, a brutal tool of war in eastern DRC, seems sadly inevitable for civilian girls, boys, women and men.  For Patience and her family, the scars are visible and ever present.

“I already have a child from an armed man who raped me when I was fifteen.” said Patience as she pointed to a young boy.  “Now, again, my sister and I are carrying the children of our tormentors.”

The young child in question heard the entire conversation. Patience and her family will face the same dilemma again soon.  And what of the children who will be borne out of brutality and distress?

Patience is very clear that after what she has lived through, there is no future for her. Her eyes welled up with tears as she said “From when I was a child, they have destroyed my life and left me a souvenir so I will never forget;  This boy looks exactly like his rapist father.  God give me strength when this next one comes;- yet another reminder that our lives and our bodies are not ours, they belong to others who have power and arms.”


The EU’s Nobel Peace Prize funds

Children in conflict often require increased and sometimes specialised food to stop the rapid decline to malnourishment.  Children who have faced war also  need child-friendly spaces where they can play and learn in a safe place.  They require psycho-social care to help them address the traumas they have witnessed and fled from; this is as important as helping and supporting communities to protect their own children.  ECHO funds actions such as these world-wide, which help address the problems that children of conflict face.

In times of conflict, humanitarian aid may be the only way to provide children, particularly the most vulnerable, with access to educational activities.  Such activities can, also help protect them from abuse and exploitation. 

This is what the EU’s Nobel Peace Prize money will be used for.  The funds will try to help the future generation to become ‘active’ members of their own recovery, instead of being a ‘lost’ generation of ‘tags’.

By Malini Morzaria, Regional Information Officer in Nairobi


[1] Source: INEE, the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies. 

[2] The name, borrowed from the children’s story “Peter Pan,” describes a generation of Sudanese boys driven from their tribal villages by the decades-long civil war between north and south Sudan. Most of the ‘Lost Boys’ – are from the various tribes of Southern Sudan and most are orphans. Approximately 26,000 young boys were said to be forcibly recruited as child soldiers.

[3] Not her real name

[4] not his real name

One Response to “Children in conflict endure an endless cycle of ‘tags’”

  1. MUTHAMA MM says:

    This reminds me of one day in Dadaab when I asked one Somali refugee young man, How he had celebrated the refugees day and he coldly said ” There is nothing to celebrate…he paused ….and he continued.. of being a refugee for 2o years” Thank God he is one of the lucky ones who got a WUSC scholarship to  Canada.  How I wish EU increases its support for children in DR Congo.

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