THE LONG WALK TO SAFETY
In a survey where school children were asked if they had ever been abducted by the LRA, 75% replied by saying “not yet.”
In a region where up to 30,000 children have been abducted from their homes to fight in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda, a collective trauma and climate of fear has overtaken the Acholi and Lango peoples. The streams of young children making the long and dangerous journey into town each and every night are evidence of this distress.
Parents, terrified that their children will be abducted from their homes at night by the LRA, feel that it is safer for their children leave their homes and villages and walk distances as far as 12 kilometers to the larger towns of Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader. While parents stay home to protect their personal property, children as young as 8 years old make the long journey into town before sunset, often clutching the hand of a younger sibling along the way.
- It has been estimated by the United Nations that upwards of 40,000 children commute into town centres every night to avoid being victims of LRA abductions.
The journey itself can be very dangerous for these children as they risk encountering soldiers along the way who may try to abduct them, steal their sleeping mats and blankets, or sexually harass or abuse girls along the routes into town.
Once in town, some children will stay with relatives in their homes. However, the vast majority of children commuting into town do not have friends or family with whom they can stay, and must sleep on verandas, at the bus park, on church grounds, or in local warehouses with numerous other children.
The conditions of these makeshift-sleeping locations are horrendous and often unsafe. Children rarely have access to water, electricity, or toilet facilities, and they sleep and do their homework on the floor amongst countless other night migrators. Although some children form communities with their peers in these environments, they are still extremely vulnerable to theft and physical and sexual abuse from other children and adults, and may be tempted into drinking, drugs, and sexual activities.
At the break of dawn, the night commuters begin their long journey back to their villages where they will attend school or go to work for the day, and then continue the cycle of migrating back into town again for the night.
- Due to their long commute, some of these children spend less than an hour a day with their parents.
Currently, the government of Uganda has not provided these commuting children with any official assistance or protection during their long walk or throughout the night. The legacy of such inaction is immeasurable, as the night commute of these 40,000 children is not only affecting the present in Uganda, but will have far reaching impacts on the ability for these children to have a bright future.
War Child Canada Projects Making a Difference
The current poor state of child rights in Northern Uganda is partly a consequence of the ongoing military conflict, and partly a result of the severe lack of human, material and financial resources to effectively and adequately defend the rights of children. In order to enable children in Northern Uganda to exercise their rights, War Child Canada is working on a legal aid project with the Ugandan Law Society in Gulu and Kitgum districts. This project provides direct legal aid and advocacy services to indigent children and youth in northern Uganda through the funding of two Child and Youth Advocates within the Ugandan Law Society. Advocacy and awareness campaigns are used to inform the greater population of the importance of children's rights. The project is also providing current training to actors in the Ugandan juvenile justice system on child rights.
Want to Learn More?
1. Act for Stolen Children
2. Human Rights Watch: What You Can Do: The Crisis in Northern Uganda
3. Canadian International Development Agency: Protecting Children in Northern Uganda
4. United Nations Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs: IRIN Web Special on the crisis in Northern Uganda