The Sudanese War of 1983 started after Sudanese president Jaafar Numeiri abolished South Sudan’s autonomy. This war spiraled into guerrilla warfare, causing nearly 2 million deaths by 1998. An estimated five million people were displaced by the war–this estimation amounted to 80 percent of the South Sudan’s population.
Throughout the war, children were conscripted voluntarily and by force into the national army and other armed groups. Deng Adut, an ex-child soldier and a recipient of the New South Wales Australian of the year award was one of those children who was recruited as child soldiers.
Adut, who never dreamt of amounting to anything in life, replayed a memory when he was a child soldier. He said, “When I was first conscripted, I was six… My first tour of duty was when I finished my military training at nine. I had my first AK47 when I was nine, and it was a beautiful piece of equipment at the time for a child. It was just like a toy. I was a child soldier, and I was expected to kill or be killed.”
In 1987, he was taken away from his family and forced to undergo military training before he was pushed out to the war front. But his time there didn’t last long as he was shot in the back while running through a village. Two years later, he miraculously met with his brother who he had lost contact with. His brother smuggled him out of the country by hiding him in a corn sack on the back of a truck which took him to Kenya. The two brothers later arrived Australia in 1998 as refugees.
Adut, who arrived in Australia, as a 14-year-old refugee with no one but his brother, defied the odds, taught himself English and put himself through school. Today, he is a 33-year-old criminal lawyer who owns a law firm in Western Sydney. His story became popular among Australians when it was told in a viral ad promoting Western Sydney University. He isn’t only a lawyer, he is an author a book about his life called “Songs of a War Boy.”
“I never dreamed of anything, even being a fisherman,” Adut said.
He has many passions which includes becoming an advocate for domestic violence prevention, juvenile justice, discrimination and inclusiveness. If he is given a chance, he said, “Children shouldn’t be going to jail, I’d like to be working with kids in jail to help them transition into the workforce. I’ll make sure I work with schools. One day I’ll be able to visit every single school in Australia and be able to tell my story.”
Adut reiterated his experience of cultural change when he moved to Australia in an interview. He spoke of an experience when he tried to re-heat a can of Coca Cola in the micro wave because he didn’t want it cold.
“I got a can of Coca-Cola, and because it was cold I told my sister-in-law that I wanted to warm it up, my sister-in-law said yes because she didn’t know any better than me,,So I pick up a can and put it in the microwave, put the timer on, press it, and within three or four seconds it just detonated like a bomb and the power gone to the whole place.”
Deng has come a long way, from being shot in the back, and teaching himself how to read. His life is a constant reminder that there are still thousands of child soldiers around the world, and thousands of refugee who should be rescued and given the chance to have a better life.
As at 2014, 12,000 child soldiers were used by armed forces and groups in South Sudan and nearly 2 million of South Sudanese are displaced.