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Former child soldiers take on new role in South Sudan

After five decades of civil war, South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 and its former child soldiers are taking on a new role.

During the long years of conflict, boys as young as 12 were encouraged to play their part in fighting for South Sudan’s independence. Many joined the junior wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, known as the Red Army. These boys were trained in combat but according to one military officer who spoke to Human Rights Watch, it was common for Red Army youngsters to be “massacred”.

One of the survivors spoke to the Guardian about his experiences. Recruited into the Red Army at 13, Adam Jaafer Manoah walked for nine months from his home in central South Sudan to a military training camp. Here, he and his companions were told they would be the “seeds of the nation” and he learnt skills not only as a “fighter” but also as a political organiser to help “liberate my country”.

Now this task has been achieved, men like Adam still believe they should be the “seeds” for the growth of South Sudan. They are therefore preparing themselves for a different fight and have changed the name of their organisation to the Red Army Foundation (RAF). Its new aim is to focus on social problems and help to fight inequality in South Sudan.

At a recent gathering in the capital, Juba, members of the RAF came together to plan how they would tackle the country’s problems. Members see one of their main new roles as helping to create opportunities in education and jobs to raise people out of poverty. Speaking at the meeting, one major in the RAF also spoke of the fight against hunger and the need for “doctors [and] teachers to come and teach our community”.

Organisational and leadership skills first learnt as teenagers are now being directed to a whole new role and the Guardian’s reporter watched as the meeting set in motion an election for a range of positions within the RAF, jobs such as chairman, vice-chairman and executive secretary. After speeches and a debate in which the audience participated, votes were cast the next day and announcements of the results made. When the winners were read out, the room broke into applause and the RAF’s new leaders were congratulated.

Half of South Sudan’s population lives below the poverty line and education levels are extremely low. These youngsters will therefore need all their skills and enthusiasm to tackle the huge task of bringing education and job opportunities to a new generation.

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