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Lay Down Weapons, “give birth to children”: South Sudan Christian Women to Child soldiers

Christian women members of South Sudan Church Council (SSCC) in Juba during their daylong meeting to fast and pray for peace in South Sudan on January 25, 2020.

Hundreds of Christian women belonging to the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) have, while commemorating their sixth anniversary of prayer for peace in the world’s youngest nation, appealed to children serving as soldiers to withdraw from being actively involved in armed conflict and instead “marry and give birth to children.”

“Our message goes to the soldiers, the young soldiers, who carry guns for 24 hours, that let these soldiers have children, let them marry and give birth to children,” SSCC Chairlady Lily Richard Kenyi said Saturday, January 25 at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish of Juba Archdiocese, the venue of the Christian women’s anniversary meeting.

Acknowledging that South Sudanese have died in large numbers during the protracted civil conflict, Ms. Kenyi posed referencing children who serve as soldiers in South Sudan, “If you keep moving around with a gun for 24 hours, when will you have children? Where will the new generation come from? This is our message to the young people.”

Drawn from ten different denominations in the East-Central Africa country, the women sought to find solutions to the challenges crippling their country.

SSCC Chairlady expressed concern that South Sudanese children had significantly suffered from the protracted violence and majority of them did not get a chance to study.

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According to a 2018 Aljazeera report, there are up to 19,000 children associated with armed forces in South Sudan. Of these, boys are trained to fight while girls are taken as “wives”.

Christian women from different South Sudanese tribes marched to Juba’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Parish last Saturday morning as part of a monthly pattern of prayer and fasting for peace organized by SSCC’s Ecumenical Women’s Desk.

At the march, the National Coordinator for SSCC, Agnes Wasuk Sarafino assured the nation’s political leaders that her group will never give up asking God for peace in the country.

 “My message to our leaders is that we do not get tired of prayers,” said Ms. Wasuk and added, “We have been praying since 2014 up to today, we started the prayers on the 25th of January 2014 and today is 25th of January 2020. We shall continue.”

The fasting and prayer initiative began six years ago (2014) after the civil conflict erupted in the South Sudanese capital Juba in December 2013. The prayer program has continued ever since.

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The daylong prayer brought together women from the seven members of SSCC, including the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, the Evangelical Church, the Sudan Pentecostal Church, the Sudan Interior Church, and the Africa Inland Church.

While praying on their knees and in tears for the peace implementation in the country, the Christian women also prayed for their cantoned soldiers, children across the country, women of childbearing age and for all the churches that seemed threatened by their own internal conflicts to have improved relations.

South Africa’s Deputy President David Mabuza, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Special Envoy to South Sudan has has proposed an arbitrated solution of the contentious subject of the number of states and boundaries in Africa’s youngest nation. It is against this backdrop that the Christian women criticized the decision by President Salva Kiir and Opposition leader Riek Machar to allow non-nationals to determine the number of states in their country.

“It is not someone to come from outside to determine for our peace and our states,” Wasuk told reporters after the fasting and prayer.

“If it is okay to be in 10, in three, in 21, in 32 states, whatever number of states, it is the people of South Sudan to determine, not someone coming from South Africa to come and say I will be able to determine how many states we will have,” the SSCC National Coordinator said.

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Advocating for a home-based and participatory decision-making, the women’s leader said, “We (South Sudanese) know what number of states we need. Let the people of South Sudan be aware of the number of states that are wanted. We know who we are.”

She urged her compatriots to take time and find out the disadvantages and advantages of any number of states to be chosen for the administration of the country.

Addressing the media after presiding over the Holy Mass of SSCC’s women group, the Parish Priest of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Kworijik, Fr. Clement Tombe expressed his appreciation for the coming together of women in his parish.

“I felt happy with the group of SSCC in my parish today,” he said and added, “This revitalized peace agreement needs a lot of enhancing, our women are doing a lot. Their prayers will bring relative peace in South Sudan.”

The South Sudanese cleric used the occasion to call upon politicians to agree on the contentious issues affecting the country and to reach lasting peace.

“I humbly urge the politicians to come to an agreement and to resolve all other difficult issues. Let them reach the lasting peace so that we experience relative peace because people suffered. We fought for almost 50 years,” Fr. Tombe told journalists.

He added, “Let them (politicians) hear and listen to the prayers of the innocent women. Let them bring peace. Let them have a tender heart of humanity, a soft heart.”

“If there is no peace, we shall continue destroying ourselves and this country will ruin itself but if there is peace, many people will love this nation,” Fr. Tombe observed.