Ugandas child soldiers trapped in vicious cycle of war UNICEF says

Many former child soldiers in Uganda who have been freed from rebel militia groups have been drawn again into armed conflict – this time with the national army, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports, throwing a spotlight once again on an issue the UN says the world should know more about. “UNICEF urges all authorities involved to screen out children in its own ranks of military, as well as local militia,” UNICEF Communication Officer Chulho Hyun said. “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 demobilization of the recruits.” Although recruitment of children under 18 may not be a systematic issue right now, UNICEF is very much concerned about receiving continuous reports of child recruitment. Last April these child soldiers topped a list of “Ten Stories the World Should Know More About” compiled by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI). For the past 19 years, the Ugandan Government has been fighting the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militia group that has commonly abducted children during night time raids and forced them into armed conflict. UNICEF estimates that some 20,000 children have been abducted, as many as 12,000 of them since 2002. “The association of children with fighting forces is in direct violation to the international humanitarian laws, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocols, which Uganda has ratified. Recruitment of children under age 18 into the military is specifically banned by the convention,” Mr. Hyun said. Many 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,” Mr. Hyun added. 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 a period of disconnect between the end of captivity, and the time an individual requires in making a firm 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,” Mr. Hyun said. “We certainly see this issue requiring continued monitoring and advocacy.”

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