|© UNICEF/ HQ04-0256/ Mariella Furrer|
|'Night commuters' heading into town in search of a safe place to sleep.|
By Jonathan Schienberg
NEW YORK, USA, 31 January 2006 – Children are bearing the brunt of continuing conflict in northern Uganda, Archbishop of Gulu John Baptist Odama said in an interview at UNICEF House.
Describing the 20-year civil conflict as “a war that now has grandchildren”, the Archbishop said the fighting can no longer be tolerated.
“When we see that the children’s future is curtailed, like in the situation in northern Uganda – where the war has particularly targeted children – we see they are both the victims, and at the same time, the heroes of this war,” Archbishop Odama said.
Insecurity, fear and torment, perpetuated by endless warfare, have plagued the people of Northern Uganda, often caught in the crossfire of a 20-year-battle waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) against the Ugandan Government. Since 1986, more than 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA and used as forced labourers, sex slaves and soldiers.
Forced to flee from their homes, to avoid kidnappings by the LRA, approximately 1.7 million people have been pushed out of their villages.
In addition to the displaced, there are also hordes of trekkers commonly referred to as the “night commuters.” Eighty percent of them are women and children. Each evening, facing the threat of attacks and abduction by the LRA, approximately 30,000 children leave home to seek refuge in the streets and public buildings of urban centres.
“The issue of the ‘night commuters’ has completely given an environment of promoting fear in the children,” said Archbishop Odama. “They need to be helped and reassured that all is not over; they still have a chance, and the best way as I can see it is to stop the war, so all can work for the good of the children.”
UNICEF, in collaboration with the Government of Uganda and other partnering agencies, is working to alleviate the situation for “night commuters” and abducted children in northern Uganda. Since November of 2005, UNICEF has helped facilitate the reunification of 84 abducted children with their families.
Archbishop Odama was in New York to take part in a forum between the United Nations Security Council and non-governmental organizations. Odama’s visit came on the heels of an open debate by the Security Council on issues in the Great Lakes region in eastern Africa.
Appointed to the Archdiocese of Gulu, in northern Uganda last January, Archbishop Odama has played an instrumental role in the peace efforts in northern Uganda.