South Sudan, 15 August 2013: A girl’s account of her experience with the Lord’s Resistance Army
By Mercy Kolok
Juba, 15 August 2013 - For 18 year-old Esther* (name changed for protection purposes), January 16th 2008 is a day she will never forget. This was the day she was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) from her village in Loka, South Sudan at the tender age of fifteen.
“I was at home when I suddenly saw one of the boys from our neighbourhood running towards me. He told me that the LRA were already in our village. Before the boy could finish talking, they were already in our compound. We ran for our lives but they chased us and caught up with me,” says Esther.
Esther’s case is not a unique one. People in Northern Uganda, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo constantly live in fear of being attacked by the LRA. The LRA which is a sectarian and religious military group is notorious for committing human rights violations against women and children.
“The LRA had abducted 125 other children on the day they abducted me. They also forced me to watch as they killed my two older brothers,” recalls a teary Esther.
According to Esther, the LRA abducts children because their god asks them to stay with people from different tribes. Once they abduct children, the LRA teaches them how to use guns and from time to time, they would be forced to go to villages to abduct children. The abducted women and girls are then distributed to the soldiers as wives and the boys are trained to be soldiers. Most of the abductees normally look for ways of escaping.
“I tried escaping severally but was caught. Together with one of the boys at Kony’s home, I finally managed to escape on the night of March 28th 2011. We were in Central Africa Republic and Kony had left for Congo to abduct more children. The soldiers who were there noticed that we had escaped; they followed us and shot at us. We also shot back. At some point they caught up with us and shot the boy on the arm and me on the hip leaving us for dead. Fortunately, we survived and walked in the forest for one week until we found a village. We explained our situation to the villagers but instead they attacked us with machetes sending us back into the forest where we were also attacked by military from Central Africa Republic,” recalls Esther.
The road is never easy for most escapees as some of them die while escaping. The communities are normally hostile to them hence reducing their chances of survival. Esther and her fellow escapee were rescued by cattle-keepers whom they met in the forest.
“The cattle-keepers escorted us to the chief in Central Africa Republic who then handed us over to the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). The UPDF took us and transported us to Obo in South Sudan where we received medical treatment for five days. We were then flown to Anzara. The boy remained with the UPDF since he was Ugandan while I was handed over to UNICEF, said Esther.”
UNICEF together with government and partners supports identification, family tracing, reunification, interim care facilities where formerly abducted children are provided initial psychosocial support and once these children are reunified with the families the children are also assisted with socio-economic reintegration. The children are assisted to go back to school or are assisted to access livelihood opportunities or both depending on what they choose to do. Families and community members are also trained on how to provide care and support to these children as they deal with their very difficult experiences.. UNICEF also supports repatriation of children who are abducted from neighbouring countries in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UPDF, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). “I am so grateful to UNICEF for bringing me to Juba and especially to the Ministry of Social Development, who have helped me to trace my family. My plea to the government is to deploy soldiers everywhere especially at the border areas so as to protect civilians,” said Esther.
Esther is one of the few fortunate children who have survived the LRA experience; sadly many other children were not so fortunate.
“To be abducted by the LRA is one of the most horrifying experiences any child can ever go through. Esther’s story especially her brave escape is a testimony of what children who managed to survive the horror of LRA abduction have narrated to UNICEF and its implementing partners,” said UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection, Fatuma Ibrahim. “The LRA is responsible for multiple grave child rights violations against and hence national, regional and global efforts must be made to stop the LRA from abducting children and the LRA must be held accountable for these violations. Meanwhile efforts should be made to protect children from abduction and for those who escape from the LRA or are rescued should be provided with urgent psychological and other reintegration assistance so that they can regain some of their lost childhood,” she added.
The Director of Child Welfare in the Ministry of Social Development- Central Equatoria State Bishop Martin Mogga says that the Government of Central Equatoria State (CES) promises to fully protect children and civilians by beefing up security at the border areas.
Esther is now happily reunited with her family and has even gone back to school.
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