Not child's play: recognising explosives in South Sudan

On his way home from school in Kuajok, a village in northwest South Sudan, twelve-year-old Angelo ran into a group of kids his age playing with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) shell on the side of a road. “The shell was stuck in the mud and the children dug it out and began to play with it”, he said. “I told them that this was a dangerous device that can kill all of us.”

Scenes like this are common in many towns like Kuajok, which are littered with unexploded remnants of the 1983-2005 civil war between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the government of Khartoum. For almost five years, South Sudan’s people have suffered from the ongoing conflict between government and opposition forces. Despite efforts to clear the country of explosives, exposure to them continues to threaten people’s lives – particularly children who are unaware of their dangers.

But Angelo is astutely aware of the threats they pose. He has learnt from training and awareness-raising campaigns, delivered by Saferworld and its partner the Organisation for Children in Harmony (TOCH), who have set up three community groups in Kuajok. As part of these campaigns, participants organise public meetings, radio talk shows and give presentations to state parliaments on the spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and the threats they pose. After Saferworld trained community groups in Kuajok on SALWs, they found that illicit weapon ownership was the single most pressing concern for many in the community.

Weapons collected from communities in South Sudan.  

When Angelo came across the curious children on the roadside, he instantly recognised the RPG shell from the presentations he had attended during the training. His quick action may have saved their lives. Angelo contacted Majak Akol Manyiel, a member of one of the community groups who has taken part in efforts to tackle the risks of SALWs.

Once Majak arrived at the scene, he cordoned off the area and alerted residents to stay clear until further notice. He reported the incident to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the peacekeeping operation in the country, which removed the device and detonated it at a safe distance from residential areas.

A community security focus group in Kuajok, South Sudan, identifies priority safety concerns. 

The presence and proliferation of weapons is one of the most pervasive problems facing South Sudan. Armed violence and accidents have killed many civilians, including women and children. Last year, a child accidentally shot and killed his brother in Gogrial, using their father’s gun which was left unattended in their house.

Angelo is taking forward what he has learnt to play an active role in raising awareness about the dangers of arms. His story proves that children can contribute significantly to making communities in South Sudan safer.

Read more about our work in South Sudan here.