Thousands of women and children were taken into slavery during the decades of Sudan’s civil war, mainly from Northern Bahr El Ghazal and the Nuba Mountains. Slave-taking was revived in 1985 by the National Islamic government of Sudan primarily as a weapon against counterinsurgents in the South, and secondarily a way to reimburse its surrogate soldiers for neutralizing this threat. In 1989 the government created the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), militia trained to raid villages and take people as slaves. PDF recruits were allowed to keep whoever they captured, along with booty of grain and cattle. One study documents 12,000 abductions by name, while NGOs offer estimates ranging from 15,000 to 200,000. The slaves were often moved to large towns in the north on week-long journeys during which the women were repeatedly raped, and then sold to new masters who used them without pay for farming and sexual services.
The peace process brought these PDF abductions to an end, but inter-tribal abductions continue in Southern Sudan. In addition, Sudanese children are used by rebel groups in the ongoing conflict in Darfur; Sudanese boys from the country’s eastern Rashaida tribe continue to be trafficked to the Middle East for use as camel jockeys; the rebel organization “Lord’s Resistance Army” has forcibly conscripted children in Southern Sudan for use as combatants in its war against Uganda; and the institution of chattel slavery continues in southern Darfur and southern Kordofan.
I was captured together with Anyang Anei during the last dry season. All the girls were kept separate from the boys on our long walk. I had to lead the goats and was beaten on the way. The boys were beaten even more. Their legs were tied at night. We were given leftovers from slaughtered goats.
I was taken to a man by the name of Hadi in a village called Adeela. Hadi treated me well and said he would give me in marriage to one of his sons one day. Hadi had many other slaves. I was not allowed to play with other children. I slept in the kitchen on a plastic sheet. My master didn’t call me by my Dinka name, but instead called me Howah, I have no idea why. I refused to attend the mosque and was beaten for that. But they didn’t send me there again.
Hadi is a rich cattle owner and has a big house surrounded by a fence. His family ate three times per day. My job was to wash the plates and do other domestic work. I was given only leftovers to eat.
Narrative as told to Christian Solidarity International, January 1999, in Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan.