Former child soldiers from Uganda this week shared their stories with Britain’s Minister for International Development, on a visit to the UK.
Thousands of Ugandan children were abducted from the north of the central African country by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the eighties and nineties and forced to fight as soldiers and terrorise the communities they grew up in. This violence at the same time as an HIV epidemic, paralysyed the region.
The UK is backing rehabilitation and recovery in Northern Uganda, including training 150,000 young people who have missed the chance to go to school and helping 4,500 people return to their former homes.
“Today I had the privilege to meet with several young Ugandans who have survived abduction and forced enslavement as child soldiers,” said Minister for International Development, Stephen O’Brien.
“These children and teenagers have endured unimaginable suffering and have shown great courage. That they have come to the UK to share their story of restoration shows a great strength and character – I believe these children, and many others like them, will grow to become upstanding citizens, heralding a new generation of hope for Uganda. They are an inspiration to us all as much as to their fellow citizens in Uganda.”
The children, supported by the charity, Watoto, thanked the MP for the UK’s continued involvement and interest in redeveloping Uganda. “Meeting the minister was great,” one of the Ugandan children told the Department for International Development. “It means a lot to me that he met with us to hear about our lives and make us feel welcome.”
Northern Uganda has been the centre of a brutal, 20-year insurgency by a cult-like rebel group that saw two million people uprooted from their homes and tens of thousands kidnapped, mutilated or killed.
Led by self-proclaimed mystic Joseph Kony, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is notorious for massacring ordinary people, slicing off the lips of survivors and kidnapping children for use as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. In 2007, the University of California-Berkley’s Human Rights Centre reported that the LRA has abducted up to 38,000 children and 37,000 adults. More than 20,000 children were abducted, and in some cases, girls as young as nine years old were turned into sex slaves. More than 620,000 people still live in camps and at the height of the fighting, violence and disease killed 1,000 people a week.