Between 2002 and 2004, youngsters were fearful of abduction by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army and most slept in crowded displacement camps or in town centres to avoid being taken. Speaking to the news agency IRIN of that time, one 20-year old said that he and other children slept “on the bare floor” of a shop veranda in Gulu and often heard “gunshots of the rebels raiding the vicinity of the town in the night”.
Today the region is much more settled and one mother living in a village south of Gulu spoke to IRIN about the brighter future for her children, who “are happy, living a life of no violence”.
But despite the peace, life is still a huge struggle for many in northern Uganda. Poverty is endemic and children remain vulnerable to malnutrition and diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea. And while education is free, poor families struggle to keep their children in school, since they must pay for costs such as transportation, uniforms, books and supplies. This means that drop-out rates are high, particularly for girls.
Many girls in the region are also encouraged to marry young and teenage pregnancy is the prime reason for girls leaving school. But boys also struggle to keep up their attendance. Teenage boys often have to help support their families and child labour is common. Some youngsters find field jobs on local farms or help out with other forms of work. One fourteen year-old said he earned around 5.50 dollars on a good day, when he harvested a decent area of rice.
Child protection issues are a major area of concern for agencies working in the region. One non-governmental organisation active in the northern districts of Lira and Dokolo found that instances of sexual and verbal abuse, as well as harsh home environments and harmful cultural practices such as enforced early marriage, were major sources of suffering to children.
SOS Children’s Villages is active in the region, becoming involved with an emergency relief programme and the support of ex-child soldiers in 2002. In May 2009, a village was opened in Gulu which provides a family home to around 120 orphaned, abandoned or refugee children. A medical centre in the town also offers the local community healthcare services, counselling, HIV/AIDS support and workshops. For more information, go to our webpage about our work in Uganda.