In the small African country of Uganda it has been estimated that over 25,000 children have been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a group of militants that has plagued the Acholi region of Northern Uganda for over twenty years. The children that have been abducted are often forced to participate in the torturing and killing of fellow child captives and members of their own family.
The LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, has created a cult-like atmosphere in which his soldiers hope to create a theocracy in Uganda. Whenever Kony's militants raid a village, they rape it of its resources, kill all resistance, and capture the children and young adults who can work, fight, or become sexual slaves. Those who are chosen to fight are then plunged into Joseph Kony's world of Christian militarism.
Kony's commanders enforce a strict regime that promotes inhumane brutality. Children begin to take pride in killing and torturing others, because this means that they will receive a promotion (which involves more plunder, less beatings, and more than the typical one meal every day or two).
Abductees often try to escape during firefights against government soldiers. If these escapees are captured by government troops, they are often subjected to Uganda's poor reintegration system for child soldiers. They are first brought to the Ugandan government's child protection camps, where former rebels are detained for extended periods of time and sometimes beaten by government troops. When the government finally frees the children, they are taken to another center specializing in rehabilitation in order to receive counseling, and be reunited with their families. Over half of the former child soldiers that are recaptured have yet to pass through such centers.
Former child soldiers are often simply pointed in the direction of their village and told to return home. Yet most children who have taken part in LRA activities, soldier or not, are not welcome in their own homes when they return. Many of people who have taken part in current atrocities are shunned, discriminated against, or even physically abused by member of their home community. Many youth are then drawn into crime or revert into the very militant group that has already destroyed their lives. If the use of children in armed conflicts continues, the next generation in Uganda will give way to yet more brutality and psychological damage.
Write or phone your members of congress and ask them to support the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 1175), which would encourage governments to disarm, demobilize, and rehabilitate child soldiers from government forces and government-supported paramilitaries. You can do this at many websites, such this one.
International Rescue Committee is a non-governmental organization that works in Northern Uganda. You can donate to this organization (of every $1 donated, 90 cents goes to humanitarian projects), register to make your company a corporate sponsor, or volunteer (to help spread the word, work in one of their offices, or work abroad as a humanitarian with the IRC): http://www.theirc.org/help/index.html
SOS Children's Villages, who boasts the world's largest orphan charity, is an Non-Governmental Organization from the UK (with a branch in the US) that works in Northern Uganda. You can sponsor a child or a village in Uganda for as little as $28/month, or volunteer: http://www.sos-usa.org
The Invisible Children is a non-profit organization that was created in light of the powerful documentary. The organization is meant primarily for high school and college students. Invisible Children offers volunteer opportunities and fundraising programs such as Schools for Schools where you can have your local school sponsor a high school in Uganda by raising money and sending supplies. The organization has information packets on starting a club at your school to raise awareness and donations, as well as other donation programs that fund schools in Uganda: http://www.invisiblechildren.com/theMovement/
For more Information, see:
· The Survey of War Affected Youth, at http://www.sway-uganda.org/SWAY.RBrief.1.pdf
· SWAY report for UNICEF at http://www.sway-uganda.org/SWAY.FinalReport.DRAFT.22Aug06.pdf
· UNICEF in Uganda, at http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/uganda.html
Nash Riggins is a junior at Lawrence Free State High School in Lawrence, Kansas. He was introduced to the issue of child soldiers in Uganda from researching for an essay regarding youth and violent conflict, and also from the film, "The Invisible Children," which caused other students at his school and in his community to volunteer and help raise awareness about the issue in Uganda. Nash recently received a Bronze Congressional Award, and was the Kansas state winner of the 2007 National Peace Essay Contest sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace.
Sources for article:
1. Becker, Jo. "Child Soldiers: Changing a Culture of Violence." Human Rights Magazine Winter 2005. 17 Dec. 2006 <http://www.abanet.org>.
2. Briggs, Jimmie. Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War. New York, New York: Basic Books, 2005.
3. Bigombe, Betty. "Negotiating Peace." United States Institute of Peace. National Peace Essay Contest Awards Banquet. House of Sweden, Washington D.C. 21 June 2007.
4. Annan, Jeannie, and Chris Blattman, comps. The Survey of War Affected Youth. Apr. 2006. Human Rights Center, University of California Berkeley. 24 June 2007 <http://www.sway-uganda.org/SWAY.RBrief.1.pdf>.
5. Singer, Peter W. Children At War. First Ed. New York, New York: Pantheon Books, 2005.