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Child soldiers trapped in vicious cycle of war

© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
UNICEF helps former child soldiers return to their families

KAMPALA, Uganda, 16 February 2005 - Many former child soldiers in Uganda who have been freed from the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have been drawn again into armed conflict – this time with the national army.

"UNICEF urges all authorities involved to screen out children in its own ranks of military, as well as local militia. It is their responsibility to reject all underage recruits. This is a message that should be clearly communicated, from the highest level in the command structure and the highest level of government, to all involved in the mobilization of the recruits,” says UNICEF Communication Officer Chulho Hyun.

For the past 19 years, the Ugandan government has been fighting the rebel group known as Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militia group that has commonly been abducting children during night time raids, and forcing them into combat and sexual servitude. UNICEF estimates that roughly 20,000 children have been abducted during the 19 year conflict, and as many as 12,000 children have been abducted since 2002.

© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
A formerly abducted child soldier inside the Rachele reception centre in Lira, Uganda.

“The association of children with fighting forces is in direct violation of international humanitarian laws, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocol, which Uganda has ratified. Recruitment of children under age 18 into the military is specifically banned by the convention,” explains Mr. Hyun.

Many of the former child soldiers have no other job skills and working for the army is often seen as a lesser of two evils.

UNICEF believes those who were abducted into the LRA have already suffered enough and need comprehensive rehabilitation. “Any affiliation with the military will lead to additional suffering to the children,” says Mr. Hyun.

The former child soldiers need a chance to be reintegrated into the society. They need to find their families, return to school and have a normal life, which could take quite a long time. “We are advocating for a period of disconnect between the end of captivity, and a time when the individual can make an informed decision on a future course of action. Whether he or she will be with the military or not, that period of disconnect has to be maximized as much as possible,” says Mr. Hyun.

UNICEF says the recruitment of children under 18 may not be a systematic issue right now, but the agency is very much concerned about receiving continuous reports of child recruitment. “We certainly see this issue requiring continued monitoring and advocacy,” says Mr. Hyun.




16 February 2005: UNICEF Communication Officer Chulho Hyun expresses UNICEF’s concern over recruiting children into armed conflicts in Uganda.
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