Sudan protests: Children's brutal treatment at hands of police
Children have been met with police brutality at demonstrations against the recent military coup in Sudan, provoking widespread anxiety throughout society, especially among families. Violence has been meted out to under-18s caught using the same methods as adults to defy the oppression they face from the security services - videos have spread on social media showing children resisting teargas canisters by grabbing them off the ground where they have fallen and hurling them back at police units. Other video clips have circulated of children throwing stones at police officers and using rocks to barricade streets.
The presence of children was also noticeable at the pro-military sit-in, organised by supporters of the 25 October military coup led by General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan at the presidential palace in Khartoum, and stirred criticisms that children were being exploited to achieve political gains at that time.
Among those killed by the pro-coup forces, 7 at least have been under 18. The youngest was Rimaz a-Atta (13) who was caught in gunfire outside her home in Al-Sahafa, a neighbourhood in Khartoum, during a protest on 13 November, and died of her injuries the following day.
"Children have been met with police brutality at demonstrations against the recent military coup in Sudan, provoking widespread anxiety throughout society, especially among families"
The injuries incurred by teenagers resulting from gunfire has varied, showing evidence that security forces have targeted the thighs, abdomen and chest areas of the body. Likewise, children have been stopped and taken to detention centres by police where they have been violently beaten. Between 30 December and 4 January, 18 minors were arrested.
The family of 13-year-old Mustafa Jouda tried to stop him taking part in an anti-coup protest in Omdurman in December. However, he seized his chance during a few minutes of non-supervision, slipped out of his home, and followed the procession of demonstrators as it passed Al-Shuhada bus station. It wasn't long before the police started firing tear gas at the crowd and chasing protestors.
Mustafa tried to run away but tripped and was grabbed by police who beat him violently, according to his uncle Ismael Abdullah, who added to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication: "It wasn't enough for the police officers just to beat Mustafa, they then threw him into a detention centre where he was kept overnight with no food or drink. His family was searching desperately for him – this was during the internet blackout and phonelines had been cut.
"They found him the next morning in the police station. They managed with difficulty to visit him, then managed to secure his release. Then they saw the extent of the torture and abuse he had suffered with no regard to his age".
He explains: "Families are trying to stop their children going to the demonstrations to stop them getting into danger, but even so, we are shocked at how the police deal with children they arrest. Our family has filed an official complaint, using Mustafa's medical report, to send the message that we refuse any amount of violence against protesting children".
Violating Sudanese values
Mustafa's story sparked widespread anger in political and legal circles, and prompted a group of lawyers to file a criminal lawsuit under articles 142 and 157 against those implicated. One of the lawyers, Al-Sadiq Ali Hasan, said: "The way the coup instigators have acted with children, and their behaviour which violates human rights in so many ways - unlawful imprisonment, use of torture, excessive beatings and intimidation - all of it is a repeat of how the previous regime under Omar Bashir behaved.
"What they are doing is illegal and flies in the face of the values and morals held by Sudanese society. The military and security services are implicated in violations against Mustafa, a child. These organisations should be protecting children and safeguarding their rights, and we stress the need for the public to be aware of these crimes, so that the perpetrators can be identified and prosecuted".
"What they are doing is illegal and flies in the face of the values and morals held by Sudanese society. The military and security services are implicated in violations against Mustafa, a child. These organisations should be protecting children"
Children's rights activist, Othman Al-Aqib, said: "Everybody should inform themselves on this issue, and review their own attitudes and behaviour, which in some cases is thrusting children into the furnace of the current protests". He admits that he mistakenly supported the attendance of children at the sit-in against the former regime in 2019 outside the army headquarters and condemns the exploitation of students of a khalwa (an Islamic school) who were brought to join the pro-military sit-in in October.
He explains: "The responsibility for children getting swept up in the political mobilisation, adopting political positions, and involved on the ground, lies first and foremost with the parents, who should convince their children to stay away due to the risks. Secondly, adults at the protests should stop children from joining them, or at the very least, keep them away from danger.
"They should definitely not encourage any violent actions, like throwing tear gas canisters. We must remember there is a huge danger in teaching children to be hostile to security forces, and planting within them an acceptance of violence which leads to serious negative social effects. However, this doesn't mean denying children their right to participate, form opinions and express themselves".
Al-Aqib strongly condemns the fact that child protestors have been placed in adult detention centres: "This shows total ignorance of our laws around child protection which stipulate special detention centres be allocated for them". He stresses that the interior ministry needs to issue instructions to all security services and police departments responsible for accompanying the demonstrations to treat children well and refer them to the relevant authorities. He also calls for a mass social media campaign to raise social awareness and campaigns informing families of the dangers of letting children go to demonstrations.
Breaking Sudanese law and international agreements
Asma al-Toum, general secretary of the Journalists for Children Association is opposed to minors taking part in protests: "They should have reached a stage of maturity and be fully aware of the risks". She says she was hit in the eye at a protest she went to with her parents when she was young and had seek treatment abroad.
She lists the risks for children: "Tear gas can cause suffocation and even death, and chemicals in the gas can affect the nervous system. Then there are sound bombs, and live fire which has killed many young people". Therefore, she urges families not to let their children go to protests, and persuade them their future role will be more important.
"Of course they should learn to reject injustice and the idea of dictatorships. However, the dangers far outweigh the positives"
She acknowledges: "Yes there are benefits to children taking part in demonstrations, like increasing their sense of pride in their homeland and their understanding that political participation is essential for building the country's future an ensuring civilian rule. And of course they should learn to reject injustice and the idea of dictatorships. However, the dangers far outweigh the positives.
"I condemn police actions against children which break the 2010 Child Act and all the international conventions Sudan has signed requiring the authorities to provide designated courts for children and give them psychological and social support if they are charged. It also requires the establishment of children's detention centres staffed by suitably trained personnel, and that child prosecution services deal with their cases".
Since independence in 1956, Sudan has only enjoyed rare periods of civilian rule - military coups have led to the majority of its governments. After the ousting of Bashir in April 2019, Sudan’s transitional government has faced an escalating economic crisis, which has led to a widening divide between the civilian and military elements of the weakening government, culminating in the Burhan-led military coup of October 2021.
Ever since, Sudan, especially the capital Khartoum, has witnessed regular protests. Protestors have blocked roads and declared a campaign of civil disobedience. Security forces have responded violently, using lethal force against unarmed protestors, sparking international condemnation, punitive measures, and calls for rule to return to the civilian authority.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.
Original article published on 13 January 2022
Translated by Rose Chacko