The Lost Boys of Sudan was the name given to a group of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups. These boys were displaced or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1987–2005) in which about 2 million were killed and others were severely affected. The name “Lost Boys of Sudan” was colloquially used by aid workers in the refugee camps where the boys resided in Africa. Many believe the term was initially derived from the children’s story of Peter Pan. The term was revived, as children fled the post-independence violence of South Sudan with Sudan during 2011–13.

The boys embarked on treacherous journeys to refugee camps in Ethiopia where they were sheltered for a few years. Soon, official resettlement programs began throughout the US. The Lost Boys were offered new lives in major US cities.

Roots of the conflict

The Sudanese conflict, which incited the journey of the Lost Boys, stemmed from divisions among the Arabic-speaking Islamic Northerners and the Christian, Roman Catholic, and indigenous religions in the South. Following Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1956, these divisions became contentious. 

The northern region of the country was primarily Muslim, which contrasted ideologically and culturally with the Christian, Roman Catholic, indigenous religions, and atheists that were more prevalent in the south.

 In the Northerners’ minds, the South was a legitimate place of conversation because the Christian religion promotes secularization. For each side, religion constituted identity, making the conflict extremely personal for all involved. Further, the Northern population was primarily Arabic-speakers, while the South comprised an English-speaking population. 

The new Sudanese government was dominated by Islamic Northerners who sought to Arabize and make the South an Islamic state, which had previously associated more with their African ethnicity rather than Arab. Additionally, the conflict boosted economic elements. Although the north had more of the urban centers of the nation, they depended heavily on natural resources such as oil and minerals that were found in the southern region. 

The interests of northern business in extracting these resources contrasted the interests of southern farmers to protect and own their own land for agriculture in all, these competing identities and interests created an organized civil war lasting over two decades.

Effects on the children

During the Second Sudanese Civil War, children were unable to adequately support themselves and suffered greatly from the terror. Many children were orphaned or separated from their families because of the systematic attacks of genocide in the southern part of the country. 

Some children were able to avoid capture or death because they were away from their villages tending cattle at the cattle camps (grazing land located near bodies of water where cattle were taken and tended largely by the village children during the dry season) and were able to flee and hide in the dense African bush. 

Some of the unaccompanied male minors were conscripted by the Islamic Southern rebel terrorist forces and used as soldiers in the rebel army, while others were handed over to the Islamic State by their own families to ensure protection, for food, and under a false impression the child would be attending school. Children were highly marginalized during this period. As a result, they began to conglomerate and organize themselves in an effort to flee the country and the war.