Child soldier, witness, refugee and spokesperson
My desire is to see complete equality between men and women when it comes to reproductive choices. Empower women with control over their own bodies and wombs. Reverse the practice of child marriage. Women will have less children, and quality of life will improve not only for the women, but for future generations to create a more stable, productive society.
For training, he was taught how to use an AK-47, a gun that was taller than he was at that time, and his education consisted of learning a few Arabic phrases. He walked through the desert for over a month at age seven to get to his camp in Ethiopia, where he later witnessed executions, was shot four times, and stepped on a landmine. Deng spent the next seven years fighting for the SPLA, against external forces and more often than not, against warring generals within the SPLA. Miraculously, he survived and at the age of 14, his brother smuggled him out of Sudan and into a refugee camp in Kenya, where an Australian woman heard his story and sponsored them both to come to Australia.
Illiterate, with no formal education, he struggled, but eventually taught himself English and was awarded a scholarship to the University of Western Sydney, where he attained his law degree. He is now a practicing lawyer, and helps many other Sudanese refugees.
In 2011, after independence, he went back to South Sudan to see his mother for the first time in twenty years. He had not seen her since he was a child and he was unsure of his need to see her as he had no memory nor experience of any close maternal bond. When he arrived at her village, he found her sitting underneath a tamarind tree, old and arthritic, bearing the physical scars of war. Yet, when she saw him, Athieu raised herself with the aid of two sticks and grabbed him and held him and cried for hours.
Deng is interviewed regularly for his experiences as a child soldier, a refugee and has spoken out about gender inequality, for UN Women. From his experience as a son and soldier of South Sudan, he believes that the most effective way to reduce gender inequality is to let women have full control over their reproduction rights. When 13 year old girls are married off, they lose access to education and employment, they end up having many children which endangers their long-term health, and as a consequence, opportunities are limited for their children.
The UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) is, together with partners, working to reverse the practice of child marriage and prevent gender based violence. Through a number of approaches and initiatives, they are mobilizing communities, NGOs, and the Government as change agents in this effort.