The Story of Asina and Her Five Children
Jonglei State, Southern Sudan – In February of 2009, Asina, a 35-year-old woman from the Murle tribe, was abducted along with her five children by young men from the rival Lou Nuer village near Lukuangele in Pibor County.
According to Asina (to protect her identity we have changed her name), a group of young men carrying guns attacked her village in a late afternoon raid. The men looted the village, killing anyone unlucky enough to get in their way and burning down houses and huts.
Asina and her five children hid in bushes near the village, but the attackers, determined to take hostages, quickly came upon her and her children. The family was captured and forcible taken northward.
The Nuer attack was revenge for earlier attacks by the Murle. Cattle raids between rival tribes are historically not uncommon in Southern Sudan. What is uncommon is the increasing frequency and ferocity of these attacks, which have fanned out across Southern Sudan.
Hundreds of children were abducted in 2009 during cattle raids and conflicts between rival pastoral tribes. The raids have surpassed simple revenge attacks on cattle herders and villages. With increasing frequency, they have become violent demonstrations of force in which women and children along with men are cut down with metal knives and automatic weapons.
The violence, which is unusual even given Southern Sudan’s conflict-ridden past, is a direct threat to the peace dividends and development gains made since the region signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with north Sudan in 2005. The ongoing violence is also a persistent threat to country-wide elections planned for April 2010 and a referendum to decide the region’s future in 2011.
Despite her situation, Asina was more fortunate than others. She could speak to the Lou Nuer youth in the Nuer language. Asina was originally from a Nuer tribe but married a Murle man in 2004. Perhaps because of this and the fact that she was visibly pregnant, she and her children were not pushed or bullied about like other mothers and children captured in the raid.
It took the group three days of forced marching to reach their destination: a Nuer village in the community of Waat. Shortly afterwards, she was placed with distant relatives who took her and her children in. The other abductees were scattered by their captors to various Murle families. Even now, almost a year later, Asina has no idea what has become of the mothers and children taken with her from their village that day.
Some months later, Asina was released by her captors who may have reasoned that since she had been married to a Murle tribesman well before recent revenge attacks and counter attacks, she should be returned to her husband.
“They also did not want to break the relationship that had developed between them and their son-in-law,” suggests Asina. “I felt very sad because I missed my husband and my son so much. They are my life,” she adds.
Following their release, the family and three other abducted children, were taken on a special flight arranged by UNMIS (United Nations Mission in Sudan) to take the group back to the Emergency Care Centre in Bor. In support of the Ministry of Social Development of Jonglei State, UNICEF, UNMIS Child Protection, and Save the Children staff brought the mother and her children back to their village of Lukuangele in Pibor County where they were met with much enthusiasm by relatives, the village chief, and payam authorities. The three children were later returned to their families by authorities in Pibor. UNICEF is working with the county officials to confirm all of the children are safely reunited.
Despite her horrifying experience, Asina reflects on the good fortune she and her husband have had, especially since her husband and older son were not at home during the Nuer attack. “They were in the cattle camp. Otherwise, my husband and my son would have been killed like so many men were killed during that day,” she adds.
For more information, please contact:
Douglas Armour, Communications Manager UNICEF Southern Sudan Area Programme, Juba, Mobile: + (256) (0) 477 256 717, + (249) (0) 913 143 481, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bismarck Swangin, Communication Officer UNICEF Southern Sudan Area Programme, uba