Uganda

Child mothers face stigma of rejection

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
A child inside an area of the Lacor Hospital, in Gulu, which is used as a shelter site for "night commuters."
NEW YORK, 20 December 2004 – The brutal civil war that is being waged in Northern Uganda has begun to claim another generation of victims.

For the past eighteen years the government of Uganda has been fighting a rebel group known as Lord’s Resistance Army, a militia consisting mainly of child soldiers who were abducted during nighttime raids.

More than one million people have been internally displaced by the conflict which has created  a problem known as ‘night commuting.’ Children in outlying regions are forced to walk miles to the safety of nearby towns for the night, and then return to their homes during the day. It’s estimated that 35,000 children make this nightly trek to avoid being forced into the conflict.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
A former LRA combatant, wounded during his captivity, performs chores inside the Gulu Save the Children (GUSCO) reception centre for formerly abducted children.
Even when abductees eventually return home their problems are not over. The abducted girls are often forced into sexual servitude, becoming the de facto ‘wives’ of senior LRA commanders.

“Girl children are offered as ‘rewards’ to senior officers,” said Chulho Hyun, UNICEF Communication Officer in Uganda. “The result is that a significant number of returnees are child mothers.”

UNICEF launched the State of the World’s Children 2005 report in the province of Gulu as a way to focus on the terrible dilemma facing child mothers.

Gulu is one of the eight provinces embroiled in the civil war. Of 840 recently returned abductees, thirty percent are estimated to have had children as a result of their ordeal.

These young mothers find themselves stigmatized and rejected – often by their immediate family. Their chances of re-marrying are small and many abandon their babies. They must also live with the fear that their so-called ‘husband’ will return to claim them.

UNICEF is providing assistance for these vulnerable children by funding and staffing centres where they can get psychological and practical help to attempt to re-enter society.

“This conflict has been going on for eighteen years. That means an entire generation has been lost, children who only know the effects of violence,” said Chulho Hyun. “Unless more is done, a second generation will also be lost.”


 

 

Video

20 December 2004: UNICEF Communication Officer Chulho Hyun describes the terrible plight of former abductees

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