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Sudanese sell children to avert starvation

Parents fleeing war and famine in southern Sudan are increasingly selling their children into slavery to hostile tribes along the way, various Sudanese and foreign sources say. Last February, children were being sold for about $100 each, according to the London-based Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights. By April, the price fell to about $17 because more families were fleeing and thus more children were available, says Alan Whittaker, spokesman for the Society, which just completed a study of Sudan.

Parents usually sell their children to keep them from starving to death and to obtain money to continue the family's trip northward in search of security, says Suleyman Baldo, a university lecturer who has researched slavery here.

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Mr. Baldo says that most parents are not likely to have the money or the courage to return to the buyers. And if they do, says Whittaker, they find the price has doubled.

In a report to be presented to the United Nations Aug. 1, the Anti-Slavery Society will say that children as young as seven are being sold into slavery in Sudan.

There is no way to measure the number of people who have been enslaved. But based on accounts, ``the scale of slavery in Sudan has grown,'' says Ezekiel Kutjok, secretary general of the Sudan Council of Churches. But the real problem, he contends, ``is that we don't see the government recognizing the problem.''

Sudan's attorney general, Hassan al-Turabi, acknowledges that some people have been ``enslaved'' while trying to escape the war.

In an interview with The Monitor, Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi referred to the allegations of slavery as ``incidents that happen between tribes,'' and said that the Western media was paying too much attention to these incidents.

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