War on children in Uganda

Last week I met with George Piwang-Jalobo, who is an energetic campaigner for a resolution to the conflict in Northern Uganda. He is the founder and director of the Center of Conflict Management and Peace at Gulu University in Uganda. He is also a scholar at the Divinity School at Duke University, here in Durham.

George told me about the 19-year-old conflict in Acholiland (N. Uganda) and the devastation this war has wreaked upon his country. 1.6 million people live in squalid conditions in camps for internally displaced people (IDP). The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has fought a cruel war in Acholiland, raiding villages to abduct children in order to turn them into child soldiers. These children, some as young as seven years old, are forced to fight government troops and conduct raids on Acholi villages to swell the ranks of the LRA.

Carol Bellamy, the former ED of UNICEF travelled to Acholiland last year and wrote an article for the International Herald-Tribune about what she saw:

I have seen many disturbing things during my time with UNICEF. But few are as shocking as the sight of the “night commuters” in northern Uganda. They are the 44,000 rural children who, fearing abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army, leave their villages every day to seek refuge in town before nightfall.
The world may be awakening to the emergency in Sudan but it has all but forgotten the tragedy of neighboring Uganda, where in the past two years some 12,000 boys and girls have been abducted by the LRA. Unlike any other, it is a war on children.
Uganda’s Night Walkers, Carol Bellamy, UNICEF.

As if this war on the children by the LRA was not bad enough, inside the IDP camps the children are not safe either. Last month, UNICEF highlighted a study that found that sexual abuse of children is a huge problem in Pabbo IDP Camp:

A new study on sexual and gender-based violence has identified rape, the sexual abuse of children and physical assault as being among the most common forms of sexual violence inside the Pabbo internally displaced persons camp in Gulu District, the largest and one of the oldest such settlements in northern Uganda’s conflict-affected districts.
Study highlights rape in Northern Uganda’s largest IDP camp, UNESCO News Note.

I doubt that media spectacles like Live8 or debt relief are going to change the situation for these children. As long as the US provides military aid to the Ugandan government to fight the LRA, which has been classified as a terrorist organization by the US State Department, the Ugandan government has little incentive to end this conflict peacefully.

What can help the children of Northern Uganda is international attention to their plight. The world needs to care what happens to Acholiland, so as to pressure the Ugandan government to find ways to make peace with the LRA, end this conflict, disarm and re-integrate the child-soldiers. Care and peace are the only hope for these children.

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