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South Sudan Kids Say 'No' to Cattle Camps

Some children in South Sudan are saying 'no' to working at cattle camps, like this one at Nimule.
Some children in South Sudan are saying 'no' to working at cattle camps, like this one at Nimule.
Philip Aleu

In South Sudan, some parents expect their children, including boys and girls as young as six, to help out with family chores before they go to school and after they get home, but now the kids are speaking out, and saying they've had enough.

George Machiek Deng, 16, used to be one of dozens of children who worked in the cattle camp in Nimule in Eastern Equatoria state. Every evening, he drove cattle from grazing areas back to their shelters along the Anyama River, where he lit fires to make sure the cattle stayed warm and checked their restraints to make sure they stayed in place.

Responsibilities like that can take hours to fulfill and left Deng with little time to do anything else, he said as he spoke out for other youngsters in the same situation.

“They come from school, they're tired. When they come to their parents, the parents tell them to go and look for firewood, look for calves in the forest... they forget easily to do an assignment," Deng told VOA News.

"Children who are learning here in South Sudan, who do so many activities, they fail even to express themselves. This creates failure for the kid.”

But some parents, like Joseph Anok, a father of three who has been a cattle herder all his life, says the education children receive in a cattle camp often turns out to be more important than the one they get in school. That's because, he says, most of the children grow up to be pastoralists like their parents.

“Living in a cattle camp can help to teach people how to work," he said, adding that kids don't need to spend every spare hour of their day working.

"A child could stay in school until noon and then from 5 to 6 p.m., he comes to work at the kraal. What is important is to tell your child to use his time very well," he said.

Many parents, including Anok, don't have much choice when they decide whether or not to get their kids to help out with the cattle outside of school hours: they don't make enough money to hire laborers.

But Nimule resident Abraham Mabior said parents have to give their children choices and allow the youngsters to balance their responsibilities to their family with their own aspirations.

Parents also need to limit the amount of work they give their children, so that the youngsters have more time to study, he said.

“During school time, the children have to be at school, and maybe during holidays, they can be at the cattle camp... Keeping cattle is not all there is in life,” he said.

And Mabior knows what he's talking about. He ran away from the cattle camp where he worked when he was 15, to pursue an education.

Now 30 years old, he is due to graduate later this year from St. Lawrence University in Kampala, Uganda, with a degree in public administration.

He regularly sends money back to his family so that they can hire laborers to help out with cattle rearing, which keeps his younger siblings out of the cattle camps and allows them to get an education and pursue the careers of their choice.

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