UNICEF urges action to fully protect their rights
KAMPALA, 27 August 2004 – UNICEF in Uganda today urged civilian and military authorities responsible for receiving 47 formerly abducted children – repatriated today from southern Sudan by the International Organization for Migration, after their abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – to ensure the children’s rights remain protected.
One measure would be to grant the returnees direct passage to NGO reception centres for formerly abducted children, in order for the group to receive urgent medical care and begin the tracing process to be reunited with families and home communities, said UNICEF.
The 47 individuals, reportedly including 12 under the age of 8, were abducted from their families by the LRA during the ongoing armed conflict in northern Uganda. The group was repatriated today from Juba to Gulu municipality, in an airlift organized by the Government of Uganda and funded by the International Organization for Migration, with the support of other humanitarian sector partners including UNICEF, Save the Children in Uganda, World Vision and Gulu Save the Children Organization (GUSCO). UNICEF is supporting the registration, rehabilitation and psychosocial counseling, vocational skills development, family tracing and re-integration of the children.
Independent confirmation of the children’s ages, numbers according to gender and other details was ongoing, said the UN children’s agency.
UNICEF Representative in Uganda, Martin Mogwanja, said that while the latest repatriation was encouraging, the continued targeting of children by the LRA for forced recruitment as combatants and sex slaves remained a “cause for great distress.”
“Any incident of abduction and physical or sexual abuse of children is unacceptable and must be condemned outright as breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Uganda is a signatory,” he said.
“The Convention calls upon State parties to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse [Articles 19 and 34].”
Up to 12,000 children in the conflict-affected districts of northern Uganda are estimated to have been abducted by the LRA since June 2002, with at least 3,000 children abducted since October 2003. In addition, the approximate number of child “night commuters” in northern Uganda (children primarily in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts who leave their homes each night to sleep in urban centres for fear of LRA attacks and abductions) currently stands at close to 44,000.
UNICEF supports eight reception centres for formerly abducted children in the conflict-affected districts of northern Uganda. In Gulu, children received by the GUSCO centre include former combatants, infants born during LRA captivity and their young mothers. UNICEF assists such centres in the provision of shelter materials, medical services, psychosocial counseling support and vocational skills-training, and facilitates the coordination between centres.
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