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EASTERN AND SOUTHERN AFRICA feature story for Uganda

© UNICEF Uganda/2009/Ongwen

Hellen Auma sits with six of her eight children at their home in Amuru District. Abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in 1994, she escaped in 2004. She and the children’s father, whom she met and married while captive, both work to support their children.

SUPPORTING CHILDREN AND WOMEN FORMERLY ASSOCIATED WITH ARMED GROUPS IN UGANDA

AMURU DISTRICT, Northern Uganda, September 2009 - “I wanted to become a doctor, but when I was abducted, all was gone,” says Hellen Auma, age 27, recalling the moment when she was forcefully taken away by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army in 1994 while she was working in the family garden near her home in northern Uganda’s Amuru District.

Auma, who escaped in 2004, says her life in captivity began with military training in southern Sudan and only worsened as she was forced into combat situations between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan military.  She recalls one particular engagement when she had to run away from the fighting, yet she was eight months pregnant. 

“One day, I decided to walk away and met a group of women who took me to a nearby army unit,” Auma says.  “I was afraid that the soldiers would harm me, but instead they took me to the Gulu Support the Children Organisation reception centre.”

The Gulu Support the Children Organisation is a community-based group supported by UNICEF and other partners that provides immediate medical care, psychosocial counselling, family tracing and reunification services for children and women formerly associated with the fighting forces in northern Uganda. 

While at the centre, Auma underwent three months of physical and psychosocial rehabilitation.  Being pregnant at the time, she also received antenatal care at Lacor Hospital in Gulu. “I immediately thought of going back home,” she says. “But the social workers at the centre advised me to stay and complete my rehabilitation as they prepared my family and me for our reunion.”

Eventually, Auma was joined by the father of her eight children whom she had ‘married’ while in captivity.  She says they are both determined to look after their children.  Auma and her husband sell drinks, charcoal and other items at the Cereleno Market in Gulu town.  During the rainy season, they cultivate crops like beans, peanuts, sesame and cassava to feed their family, and sell the surplus during the dry season.  Auma’s plans for the immediate future include rearing poultry and selling them in Juba, southern Sudan.

In 2009, UNICEF additionally assisted the Government of Uganda with the development of an action plan to address grave violations against children.  This led to the de-listing of Uganda from the United Nations Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict’s work plan of countries with parties perpetrating grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1612.