Despite the end of the 20-year Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict in Northern Uganda, challenges remain and the fighting has not been forgotten. Ugandan former child soldiers have been returning home since the conflict has moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. However, some of them are still struggling to find their place in their communities. In the eyes of many people, while former combatants were once victims of armed groups, they remain soldiers who killed innocent men, women and children and ignored the pain and bloodshed they caused. In the strategy to improve this negative image, international organisations, policy-makers and humanitarian actors play an important role.
Even though the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has stopped abducting children in Uganda since 2006, some remain captive in other parts of East Africa by the LRA while some suffer from the aftermath of a lengthy brutal period. Indeed, very few of those who participated in the war and were associated with armed forces and groups are now healthy persons.
For all of these children who are now young people, the current situation is particularly complicated. Almost none of them have received a basic education and not all of them have been welcomed back to their former homes or accepted by their communities. Many of them are poor and are suffering from a physical and/or a mental disability. Even worse, some children have become deaf as a result of the war – their hearing impairment mainly due to the actions of the LRA that forced them to become soldiers or to perform other roles on the battlefield such as those of porters or spies in the 1990s and the early 2000s.
In Uganda and especially in Northern Uganda, children have suffered from civil unrest since the early 1980s. For instance, they were killed, raped, mutilated and/or brutalised in the rebellion against the Ugandan government by the movement of the Lord Resistance’s Army (LRA). They were also used as child soldiers in this armed conflict which, according to International Labour Office (ILO) convention No. 182 (1999), is one of the worst forms of child labour.
Every year, June the 20th marks World Refugee Day. As people across the globe appreciate the strengths and hope of refugees, I am Somebody’s Child Soldier (IamSCS) wants to illustrate the situation of refugees in Uganda where an average of 2000 individuals have been fleeing to everyday for nearly a year.
Girls’ and women’s experiences within fighting forces and groups
When a conflict erupts, a number of girls and women are abducted to perform tasks for fighting forces or groups while others join the armed opposition as an opportunity to meet their basic needs and as means of protection. Moreover, in an armed-conflict society, girls and women are exposed to more violence, especially sexual violence than boys and men. Northern Uganda, where the war against the civilian population began in 1986, was no exception. Girls and young women were abducted, especially during 1993 and 1994 when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) gained power as an offered sanctuary by the government of Sudan.
When participating in a war, children are denied their rights in various ways; they are abused, neglected, deprived of education and healthcare and, in some cases, forced to witness the killing of innocent civilians and loved ones. In response to this worrying situation, international law has been taking action in favour of those rights since the late 1980s. This blog concentrates on the body of law and policy that has been most influential in protecting the rights of children associated with armed forces and groups.
IamSCS works in Uganda where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was founded 30 years ago. This armed rebellion – which has been widespread in East Africa – has killed at least 100,000 people, has driven 2.5 million people from their homes, and has forced 100,000 children to fight or act as porters, cooks, messengers, informants, spies or even as ‘wives’ of rebels. These children have emerged as central figures of this war as they constituted 90 per cent of the LRA’s soldiers. Worldwide, 300,000 children are estimated to be active in armed groups. Although we can refer to a “child soldier” as any person below the age of 18 who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, the more accurate term to describe these individuals is Children Associated with Armed Forces And Groups (CAAFAG), since not all of them are used as soldiers. This blog presents their profiles.
In African communities, individuals suffering from mental illness are often thought of as posing a risk of violent behaviour, which indicates that they are victims of discrimination, misconceptions and stereotypes.
As a result, people affected fear to talk about their mental health issues and to seek out proper treatment. More often, members of their communities deny them their right to treatment, as was discussed in our blog “Mental illness as an enormous disease burden in African societies”.
Through our Blog Series, we present the difficult environment in which former child soldiers live. In addition to this challenging setting, the population have had to survive through at least seven civil wars since the early 1980s. The first civil war killed a million people and injured 600,000 others. At the end of the war in 1986, Museveni from the National Resistance Movement (NRM) became the President.
At I am Somebody’s Child Soldier (IamSCS), we make sure that our actions directly benefit those in need. Thanks to our on-going support, the children at Laroo ADRA School and the 30 women of the group ‘Can Rwede Peke’ are coping little by little with their mental illnesses. All the more, they are trying to build a brighter future for themselves.