The Save Yar Campaign
The Save Yar Campaign has three objectives: (1) researching the capacity of Sudanese institutions and international institutions responsible for child protection to achieve their goals and analysis of the gaps; (2) reporting on child abduction and its causes, to develop a credible public-awareness campaign; and (3) advocating directed to governmental and intergovernmental organizations as well as the international media, to highlight the seriousness of intra-South Sudan child abduction, and secure the release of abducted children.To read more about the results of the campaign click here.
In October 2007, Yar and Ajak Mading, aged 3 and 1 ½, respectively, were violently abducted from the home of their grandmother in South Sudan. An armed group of Murle, a rival ethnic group, entered the rural home and took the girls. In the course of the abduction, the girls’ great-grandmother was killed and their grandmother lost her leg. Days after the attack, word reached Gabriel Kou Solomon, the uncle of the girls and a U.S. citizen doing graduate work at the University of Minnesota. Mr. Solomon worked with Human Rights Program Director Barbara Frey to mobilize graduate level human rights students to work for the release of the little girls. The classmates worked tirelessly, conducting research and serving as advocates to bring attention to the plight of Yar and Ajak and other abducted children in South Sudan. The students’ work became known as the Save Yar Campaign, a campaign which has provided a voice for children of rural Sudan.
While the goal of recovering the girls has proven unattainable yet, members of the Save Yar Campaign have, since its inception, achieved great success with the Campaign in crucial ways; in particular, they have drawn much attention to the historically under-scrutinized issue of child abduction in South Sudan. Between October 2007 and July 2008, members of the Save Yar Campaign held press conferences which resulted in more than a dozen media stories, garnered support from congressional representatives and aid organizations, and collected more than 2,500 signatures imploring the Government of South Sudan to act for the benefit of its children. In November 2007, campaign members attained a meeting with Vice President Salva Kiir of Sudan, during which he assured them that the government would take action to protect children and their families. And in March, three campaign members, including Kou Solomon, traveled to South Sudan where they spoke with local officials and organizations, and searched for information on the root causes of child abduction and possible solutions. Campaign members have described the ongoing work of the campaign through the blog: www.save-yar.org.
A report from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on August 29, 2007 found that the anarchic atmosphere of South Sudan has allowed hundreds of abductions despite ethnic leaders’ vows to end the practice. In this poor and war-fatigued region of South Sudan, local authorities lack the resources to locate the girls, let alone return them to their parents.
According to their grandmother, the gunmen who took Yar and Ajak were of the Murle ethnic group. Former Jonglei state Governor Philip Thon Leek told U.S. officials that in a recent 12-month period, Murle raiders were considered responsible for the abduction of 185 children from Jonglei state, another 100 from neighboring Eastern Equatoria state, and about 100 from Central Equatoria state. Though Murle cattle raiders have been responsible for many of the inter-tribal child abductions since the end of the Second Sudanese Civil War, recent evidence suggests that the problem crosses ethnic and tribal boundaries.
Important Factors Perpetuating Violence
Several factors that contribute to instability in the region also weaken governmental actors’ ability to prevent child abductions. These include the failure to achieve disarmament and security despite the agreement ending the North-South civil war; continuing tension between the North and South of Sudan; Sudan’s location along known routes of human trafficking, and conflicts between ethnic groups within South Sudan. Child abduction in South Sudan is a symptom of phenomena that also occur elsewhere in the Horn of Africa: Competition between ethnic groups for scarce resources amid local officials’ inability to enforce disarmament plans after major armed conflict.
The Murle remain heavily armed, contrary to the U.S.-brokered peace treaty. Following the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan, the government began a program to disarm civilian groups in Jonglei state including the Murle in December 2005. The programs did not acknowledge the economic value of arms such as offering compensation for weapons turned over. Nor did the programs come with assurances of security. In late January 2006, confrontations between SPLA soldiers and civilians from various tribes and government-sponsored militia groups led to a dramatic death toll and an increase in arms coming into Jonglei state. Additional efforts at disarmament turned violent.
Ineffective International presence
The United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Sudan is mandated to "protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, within its capability" as well as "to protect and promote human rights" particularly for vulnerable groups including children. But the mission in 2007 has about 10,000 personnel covering all of Sudan—almost 1,000,000 square miles and a population of 37 million. And UNMIS is not authorized to disarm any parties.
Ineffective National and Local Law Enforcement
One of the major problems areas with child abduction is the lack of resources to enforce protections. Police force are few and cover large areas of land and are not equipped with proper communication devices. These issues have been officially addressed before. In 1998, the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children was established, however it has been ineffective since 2006 due to lack of funding from the GOSS.
The Murle’s interest in acquiring children may be related to the low fertility rates in their community. However, there have been no conclusive studies to prove or disprove these claims.
Unreconciled Ethnic Conflict
Sudan is an enormously diverse nation with several hundred different ethnic groups. While conflicts between the North and South are most recognized, many feuds between Southern ethnic tribes persist today. These conflicts stem from competition over natural resources such as land, water and cattle.
Jonglei state needs economic development. The U.S. Agency for International Development and other donor agencies have begun many projects from Juba since the treaty signing, but Jonglei is remote. USAID proposed a community demand-driven Local Economic Recovery Program (LERP) that was to begin in Jonglei, but funding in USAID/Juba’s Economic Growth portfolio is low, so the program is on hold.
 Documented Oct. 25, 2007, by the UN Mission in Sudan’s OIC Child Protection Unit (N.J. Lokenga).
 Correspondence with John Marks of OFDA, Oct. 25, 2007. See also the UN’s Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Sudan, Aug. 29, 2007, pp. 8 & 11.
 UN report, 2006.