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UNICEF highlights ‘forgotten’ tragedy of child soldiers in Uganda

UNICEF highlights ‘forgotten’ tragedy of child soldiers in Uganda

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is shining the spotlight on the plight of thousands of children abducted as soldiers and sex slaves by rebels in northern Uganda, taking the world to task for forgetting a tragedy that “has obliterated the idea of childhood as a protected time of healthy growth.”

In April these child soldiers topped the list of “Ten Stories the World Should Know More About” compiled by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), and UNICEF today called on the Government of Uganda and the international community to do much more to stop this war on children.

“The world may be awakening to the emergency in Sudan but it has all but forgotten the tragedy of neighbouring Uganda, where in the past two years some 12,000 boys and girls have been abducted by the LRA (the Lord's Resistance Army),” Executive Director Carol Bellamy said.

Although more than 1.2 million people have been displaced in fighting and Arab militia attacks in western Sudan, “unlike any other, it (the LRA conflict) is a war on children,” Ms. Bellamy added in an article published Friday in The International Herald-Tribune and reproduced in a UNICEF news release today.

She wrote of the frantic efforts of parents to protect their children from the nightly LRA raids. “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,” she said. “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 attacks invariably involve appalling human rights abuses. “Children are often forced to kill their parents or other children. Those who are taken, some as young as six, are used as sex slaves in the rebel force, made to work as slaves, or forced to become soldiers. The LRA believes fighting age begins at seven,” she added.

Ms. Bellamy praised the Ugandan Government for bringing peace to most of the country, spreading universal primary education and tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but she said it is failing its people by not ensuring the protection of its citizens – “and the global community is doing almost nothing to help.”

The world's governments have pledged just 20 per cent of this year's UN appeal for $127 million in humanitarian aid. “The night commuters offer a vivid image of what happens when parts of a society are left completely unprotected,” Ms. Bellamy declared.

“We are calling on the government of Uganda and the international community to bring the kind of potent political will to the problem that has been brought to bear elsewhere,” she added.