Monday, 27 August 2007

Children and the conflict in Northern Uganda

One of the meetings I had last week was with a children's rights organisation. We ended up talking about the situation in Northern Uganda, and the difficulties in re-settling children who had been abducted from their villages at a very young age by the Lord’s Resistance Army. To many, the LRA way of life would have become the norm.

I was told the story of a five year old being inoculated for the first time at one of the resettlement centres. When the doctor injected him, he screamed out to his mother: ‘Tell Daddy to shoot him!”

Young girls in particular may have had a dual role within the LRA camps, as fighters and as sex slaves/ young mothers. Boys had grown used to being treated as men within the LRA, and were not happy with being treated like children again. Both boys and girls may have been forced to commit atrocities against their own people, which binds them into the LRA ‘community’ and increases the likelihood of them being rejected by their own people.

There are around 1.8 million internally displaced people as a result of the conflict in Northern Uganda – some say 2 million, which puts it on a par with Darfur, which commands much more media attention - and the majority of them are children. Not all of them would have become part of the LRA, but all of them would have been its victims, either abducted from their villagers by rebel soldiers or forced to leave for the safety of the camps because of fear of violence or abduction.

Most recently, child-trafficking has become a real issue in the North, with some traffickers posing as charitable concerns. One step which is being taken to try to combat this is a campaign for birth registration, which would make children’s identities easier to ascertain. Although by law all births in Uganda must be registered, only 4% currently are. Only 1% of the population has a birth certificate. So now there is a campaign to ensure that all new babies are registered at birth, and that other children are registered when, for example, they are inoculated. It won’t stop all trafficking, but it might help.

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