The Rape of Slave Boys in Sudan

By Sliwa, Maria | Contemporary Review, June 2004 | Go to article overview

The Rape of Slave Boys in Sudan


Sliwa, Maria, Contemporary Review


AS HE began speaking, Majok lowered his small cocoa-coloured eyes and stared intensely at the ground. It was the summer of 2002 and I had just flown thousands of miles deep into the war zone of Sudan to interview former slaves.

Majok, then 12, tightly hugged his long, bony legs, as we sat on the parched termite-infested earth. His ragged black shorts and ripped oversized T-shirt hung loosely on his spindly, dust-covered body. A continuous flow of tears poured down his adolescent face, as he spoke of the way he was repeatedly raped and sodomized by gangs of government soldiers.

'They raped me', Majok cried. 'And when I tried to refuse, they beat me'.

After taking care of his master's cattle all day, Majok said he was often raped at night. He told me that his rapes were very painful and he would rarely get a full night's sleep.

He also spoke about the other slave boys he saw who suffered the same fate. 'I saw with my eyes other boys get raped', Majok said. 'He [the master] went to collect the other boys and took them to that special place. I saw them get raped'.

Yal, another adolescent, had multiple scars on his arms and legs that he said came from the numerous bamboo beatings he received while in captivity. He told me he saw three slaves killed and one whose arm was hacked off at the elbow because he tried to run away. Yal also said he saw other boys raped by his master at his master's house.

'At the time they were raped they were crying the whole day', Yal said. He then told me that he, too, was raped.

Since 1989, Sudan's Muslim extremist government, which is seated in the North, has been waging a declared jihad against ethnic and religious communities that resist Arabization and Islamization. The battle is over land, oil, power and religion, by a government that is made up of some of Africa's most aggressive Arab Islamists, says Jesper Strudsholm, the Africa correspondent for Politiken.

Animist and Christian black Africans in Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, have paid a price for refusing to submit to the North. Over two million have died as a result of this war, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees. Often trapped in the fray are surviving victims whom the government soldiers capture as slaves. Human rights and local tribal groups estimate the number enslaved ranges from 14,000 to 200,000 people.

Though thousands still remain enslaved in the North, since 2003, the genocide and slave raiding in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains has been suspended because of a ceasefire. Amnesty International, however, reports that the government continues to attack black African Muslims in Darfur, Western Sudan. According to an expert on Sudan, Eric Reeves, more than 1,000 people are dying every week in Darfur because of government attacks, and 'the numbers are sure to rise'. Amnesty also reports that surviving victims have been raped and abducted by government soldiers during these raids. International law recognizes both slavery and rape in the context of armed conflict as 'crimes against humanity'.

As I questioned the former slaves, village leaders, my translators, and many Sudanese immigrants living in the United States, it became apparent that the tribal society in which Majok and the other slaves were born has strict taboos about sex, especially male-to-male sex. I was told that although many villagers are aware that young male slaves are raped while in captivity, it is not discussed because of the cultural prohibitions on all forms of homosexuality including rape.

In fact, male-to-male sex is considered such an egregious act in South Sudan that if two males are found guilty of having consensual sex with each other they are killed by a firing squad, according to Aleu Akechak Jok, an appellate court judge for the South.

Jok's description of Southern Sudan's punishment for consensual homosexual sex is not too different from the Muslim Sharia law in Northern Sudan, which imposes a death penalty on those found guilty of homosexuality. …

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