Children, Youth, and Armed Conflict: How Youth Participation in Armed Conflict Has Prevented Peace in Africa as Shown by a Case Study in Northern Uganda
WAMALA TWAIBU - WORLD REPORT NEWS - 17 September 2015
Wamala Twaibu is the Executive Director of the Uganda Harm Reduction Network and is earning his Master of Arts in Refugee and Migration Studies at the Uganda Martyrs University. The following is one of his final research publications.
Much has been said about the conflict in northern Uganda, a civil conflict that has caused untold suffering in Uganda and the general Great Lakes region of Africa. In most analyses of this armed conflict, children and youth are invisible and are typically regarded as passive, incidental victims or inconsequential actors. In current intrastate, ethno-political conflicts, however, children play an increasing role both as soldiers and, along with other non-combatants, as targets and victims in fighting at the community level. Evidence from the recent conflicts in Northern Uganda and elsewhere , the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children and demonstratesyouth documents that significant numbers of children and youth are soldiers in conflicts fought in the post-Cold War era. The increasing participation in political violence of children and youth, many of whom have little schooling, job training, or other means of meeting their basic needs, presents profound obstacles to the construction of peace. Furthermore, current patterns of community-level fighting victimize children and youth, enabling soldiering and the continuation of cycles of armed conflict. To examine the scale and consequences of children and youth involvement in armed conflict, there is need to develop an understanding of the wider psychosocial impact of armed conflict on children and youth. This essay intends to review current knowledge about the psychological impact of political violence on children and youth in Northern Uganda. The essay also aims at constructing culturally appropriate intervention and prevention efforts that assist children, youth, and their families, which can contribute to broader programs of post-conflict reconstruction and development.
Keywords: Reintegration; Uganda; LRA; UPDF; ICC; DRC;CAR; NRA; LDUs; IOs, child soldiers; PTSD
A comprehensive search was undertaken of the electronic databases for information on children and youth in armed conflicts in Africa, Uganda and Northern Uganda in particular from 1986 to present. Search terms entered were “children and armed conflicts”, “child soldiers in northern Uganda”, “the Kony war in Northern Uganda”, “Interventions to combat children participation in armed conflicts”, “Preventing, Recruitment, Rehabilitating, and Reintegrating of Children in armed conflicts”
The use of children and youth in armed conflict is a global problem with inherently local challenges. This implies that a combination of large and small scale strategies are required to address it.
The international community has generally ignored the use of children and youth in armed conflicts despite their widespread use. Few peace treaties even recognize their existence. Human Rights Watch report(2003,2006) indicates that, as many as 300,000 girls and boys between the ages of 8 and 18 serve as child soldiers, either in government forces or armed rebel groups, in 33 countries around the world. These armed forces recruit children for a variety of reasons; children may supplement inadequate numbers of adults in the fighting force, and scared and hungry children and youth soldiers are more obedient, they do not question orders, and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers.
The conflict in northern Uganda has and continues to boggle minds of many people. Surviving for over two decades and led by a person whom some have called a barbaric lunatic; the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to elude strategies and techniques of combined armies. Coined by several interconnected factors, this conflict has been characterised by atrocious actions, most of which are principally attributed to the LRA.
The participation of children and youth in hostilities has become an increasingly common phenomenon which appears to be connected to the emergence of new kinds of conflicts, fought between regular armed forces and rebel forces. Armed conflict affects the lives of children and young people, as well as their families, their communities and their nations. The actions and inactions of a range of security actors have a different impact on girls, boys, men and women given the distinct roles they play during war, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. Research suggests that around half of all armed conflicts that have ended will re-emerge within ten years. Many post-conflict states are left in a state of fragile peace with no real closure of the issues. Understanding how children experience conflict, post-conflict, peacebuilding and how they view and experience both insecurity and security is vital in interpreting short-term and long-term consequences on their development. What happens to children in their early years significantly determines the way they grow and develop and in turn, their cost or contribution to society. Children and young people have a crucial role to play in either pursuing peace or conflict.
Although it is easy to demand that children have no place in the world’s violent conflicts, the reality is very much different. The litany of tasks undertaken by children in conflict zones is well known as are the physical, mental and sexual scars that result. While participation of children in conflicts is forced at the barrel of a gun, other involvement is forced by cruel circumstances and lack of alternatives. Furthermore, it is difficult to extract children from these conditions. Disarmament and demobilization is problematic when the armed group feeds and clothes you, and when the commanders you fight under and the soldiers you support are the closest semblance of community that remains.
Currently, there are approximately 300,000 child soldiers in the world; roughly 40% are in Africa according to Luke Falkenburg, Journal Article (March 15, 2013). Presently, the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda contributes to these high numbers as they continue their operations in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ugandan’s reintegration methods failed to fully address the issue of child and youth soldiers and the LRA continue with their recruitment of children and youth soldiers mostly unabated. Therefore Ugandan, regional, and international options for dealing with this continued threat need further examination.
The ethnic divisions between the northern Acholi people and southern peoples have defined Uganda’s history- Since Uganda’s Independence in 1962 and the rise of pro-Acholi Milton Obote, until when the notorious Idi Amin overthrew him. In 1980, Obote returned to power but was overthrown by the National Resistance Army’s (NRA) led by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in 1986. Since then, several Acholi movements have challenged Museveni’s rule. For example, before Alice Auma’s (Lakwena) Holy Spirit Mobile Forces were crushed in 1987, it enjoyed initial success and popularity among the Acholi.
Joseph Kony, a medium and the LRA’s founder, almost immediately followed the Alice’s movement. Kony, a staunch opponent of Museveni, demands that Uganda be governed according to the 10 Commandments but has failed to offer any real political solutions. Despite the lack of clear objectives, Kony’s LRA has effectively been waging a war for over 20 years with Uganda and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). The conflict has spilled into the neighboring countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Southern Sudan making this conflict a regional concern. Unlike Alice’s movement, which enjoyed popularity among the Acholi, the LRA enjoys little popularity at home in northern Uganda and holds no territory. As a result, the LRA is reliant on the application of terror, usually on the same people it claims to represent, in order to recruit and sustain its campaign.
Historically, the LRA enjoyed support and sanctuary from Sudan’s Omar el-Bashir the president of Northern Sudan Government both secretly and openly. This relationship was responsible for increasing deployment of arms in LRA compared to a few number of fighters to carry them, which led to increased forced recruitment of children and Youth starting in 1994. However, Sudanese and Ugandan collaboration in 2003 resulted in the UPDF entering Sudan as part of “Operation Iron Fist” to engage the LRA who had established their military base in Southern Sudan. Afterwards, the LRA’s recruitment methods become noticeably more brutal by encouraging children and youth to torture parents and chop family members and friends to death. However, the operation was devastating for the LRA and forced them to move their base of operations out of Southern Sudan and into Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “Operation Lighting Thunder” (2008-2009) attempted to mimic the Sudanese operation; however, despite weakening the LRA, it failed to destroy the movement and led to retaliatory attacks and abductions of the DRC’s civilian populace. For instance, in December 2009, four days of horror in northern Congo left 321 citizens killed, and 250 abductions of which approximately 80 were children.
Essentially, the war over Uganda has been deemed as “a war fought by children on children,” as children account for approximately 90% of the LRA’s forces. No fewer than 50% of these recruits are girls and boys between the ages of eleven (11) to sixteen (16). Although numbers of children abducted vary by source, all are extremely high. According to a 2005 UNICEF report, an estimated 25,000 children had been forcibly recruited by the LRA. Phuong Pham’s in country study conducted in (November and December 2010) put the numbers between 25,000–38,000 from 1986-2006, with 24% girls and 76% boys. The actual number of current combatants is estimated to be as low as 200-250. However, the LRA’s strength has fluctuated over the years, but has proven itself to be resilient, capable of quickly abducting children to bolster its ranks, and demonstrates that small numbers remain capable of having devastating consequences.
LRA terror has displaced 90% of the Acholi. This is partially the result of government counterinsurgency tactics in the 1980s and 1990s of moving communities to deplete the LRA’s support base. As aforementioned, this was unproductive, since the LRA does not enjoy Acholi support. Furthermore, the government failed to provide appropriate security for the refugee camps they created which created convenient concentrated recruiting pools from which the LRA could forcibly recruit children and youth. All told, approximately 1.8 million civilians were displaced and the government put roughly 1.4 million refugees into state run camps.
Use of children and youth in the Ugandan’s armed conflict
In the Ugandan civil war led by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), both the rebel forces and the government forces are involved in the abduction and recruitment of children and youth to serve as soldiers. The Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF), the government army, has been engaged for over 20 years in a civil war with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a northern rebel group led by Joseph Kony.
LRA recruitment practices
The LRA recruited and still recruits many children and youth, often forcibly, in northern Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR). This problem has continued to worsen. The LRA abducts children from homes, schools, and off the streets to fight against the government and in the case of young girls, they are used as servants or sex slaves for LRA commanders. And recruited children's families and neighbors are often murdered to eliminate any incentive for the children to escape from the LRA. Sometimes the children themselves are forced to kill their own family members and neighbors, to reinforce the perception that they may never again return to their homes.
Over the past 20 years of the northern Uganda civil war, according to Aaron Jacobsen (2007), as many as 30,000 northern Ugandan children and youth have been forcibly abducted or coerced by the rebel LRA to serve as soldiers, laborers, and sex slaves. The number of abductions has increased dramatically during the past years. Children in rural, isolated areas are at higher risk of being kidnapped by the LRA. Many children and youth run away from their isolated homes in the villages to sleep in relatively safer more populated areas in the nearby townships.
Government recruitment practices
The UPDF re-recruited children and youth who were rescued from the LRA to send them back to the front on the opposite side. The government army, recruited children and youth during the debriefing process for rescued children. The debriefing process, which takes about one week, is used by the government forces to gather military information on LRA movements. Former LRA children and youth soldiers are promised salaries, new uniforms, and an alternative to living on the street, all in exchange for joining the UPDF. These children can refuse, of course, but those that do risk incurring insults and reproaches from their would-be recruiters.
In addition to recruiting boys to fight in the army against the LRA, the government also promises salaries to children who join the Local Defense Units. LDUs or home guards.
This Journal addresses the continued practice of children and youth participation in conflict at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), with a concentrated focus on Ugandan children and youth, the recruitment process, Uganda’s rehabilitation and reintegration methods, and the procedure necessary to disperse the LRA and end this dreadful practice. The three main areas of focus are identified; first the LRA’s successful recruitment of children and youth is responsible for the organization’s liveliness. Second, Uganda’s current reintegration and prevention measures need reform. Third, the only long-term solution to end the LRA’s children and youth soldiering is through a decisive victory, which requires expanded regional and international intervention.
Although poverty is a serious problem in Uganda, children and youth do not appear to be voluntarily entering the LRA’s forces for economic opportunity. To be an orphan is not a precondition for entering the LRA, many are violently kidnapped and ripped away from their families. In addition, many are born into the LRA as child soldiers. Currently, a second generation of child soldiers is being born into the LRA who are fathered by the former child soldiers and are forced to fight in the 28-year conflict. Therefore reasons of revenge, glamour, glory, economic opportunity, and survival are not prevalent in the LRA as they may be in other instances of child soldiering.
The LRA targets children to recruit for several reasons. For instance as previously mentioned, the 1994 arms build-up resulting from the LRA’s time spent in Southern Sudan left an abundance of weapons with an insufficient number of soldiers. Children were deemed easy to manipulate, quick to learn, cheap, and able bodied, and thus the ideal recruit. Additionally, children and youth often fail to recognize their own mortality, which makes them ideal for battle, as they have no fear of death. As Alcinda Honwana (2008) describes, the LRA’s end goal is that, “the children become empty vessels into which the capacity for violence has been poured.” However, not all roles require children and youth soldiers to act as combatants. Often times, children may be used as porters, cooks, or sex slaves.
Manipulation begins immediately after abduction. The aim is to dehumanize children and control them through the use of fear. Unfortunately, it has been a strategic success. David Lacony, a student at Sacred Hearth Seminary in Gulu, was kidnapped by the LRA in 2003. He was promptly separated from his fellow students, to create a sense of isolation. Shortly afterward he was taken to a field and forced to kill two innocent men with sticks. Children are not allowed to cry when they kill, or feel isolated. If they do, they jeopardize their own existence. As Donald Dunson (Oct 9, 2003) explains, “a day or two after their kidnapping they undergo a rite of initiation. First they are beaten, purportedly to teach them that the life of a soldier is difficult and includes much pain, threatened with death should they cry, those who succumb to the emotion of the moment are clubbed on the back of the head and simply killed.” Children who fail to obey the rules and kill when told are often surrounded by other children and beaten on the head with sticks until they die to serve as a lesson for the other abductees.
Abduction often involves children being violently separated from their families. One 13-year old boy in 2002 stated, “Early on when my brothers and I were captured, the LRA explained to us that all five brothers couldn’t serve in the LRA because we would not perform well. So they tied up my two younger brothers and invited us to watch. Then they beat them with sticks until two of them died. They told us it would give us strength to fight. My youngest brother was nine years old.” Moreover, abduction may involve children being forced to kill their own mothers, fathers, or siblings. The LRA then uses the event to create the sense that the children will not be welcomed back into their communities and therefore must rely on the LRA. In this way, the LRA avoids reliance on drugs for social control, in addition to the beatings and other forms of manipulation, the notion that abductees are unable to return home proves to be a powerful stimulant.
Regardless of psychological manipulation and the physical consequences, many children attempt to escape. If caught, they are dealt with harshly to serve as a lesson for others. One soldier remembered, “All of us new recruits were gathered to watch what happened to people who tried to escape. He [the escapee] was told to lie down on the ground by the side of the road, with his head down. The rebels hit him behind the head with logs until he was dead.” Frequently, the abductors force the captured children to carry out the executions.
Rituals are incorporated into the killings such as consuming blood or performing religious ceremonies with the deceased. Since superstition is prevalent in Acholi society, the LRA uses it to effectively manipulate children. One child soldier remembered, “We had to write a cross on our foreheads using the dead children’s blood, otherwise they would have killed us. They told us that their soul would haunt us if we would try to escape.” Therefore, children feel the need to cling to the LRA to be protected from angry spirits seeking retribution.
The LRA intentionally targets children aged 12-14, who they believe are less likely to escape, are more impressionable, and are nearing their physical peak. Children may begin to develop strong allegiances to the LRA after their minds have been twisted. Those who prove themselves are promoted and gain more freedom. Children are more likely to yearn for this recognition of acceptance from their abductors than young adults. The success of these techniques is evident when looking at a top LRA commander, General Dominic Ongwen, who was indicted by the ICC. Ongwen, who was kidnapped by the LRA when he was ten, illustrates the success of the LRA’s manipulation techniques.
Most LRA abductions target girls and boys. Females serve as sex slaves and are located in base camps, such that they are kept far from their homes and familiar territory. There is less chance for females to escape, since they have been removed from combat situations that provide opportunities to leave. Additionally, if pregnant, girls are physically limited and may develop the sense that they must remain to care for their child.
In captivity, girls undergo the same abuse as boys, but additionally are raped to generate fear. Girls are given as wives/rewards to high-ranking members of the LRA. Joseph Kony is believed to have 30 wives, senior combat members have 8 wives each, and other important figures in the force 4 wives each .Many girls contract diseases while in captivity. Nine out of ten girls who leave the LRA are diagnosed with STDs or HIV. However, the LRA has also used some girls as combatants. One woman reported of him, “There were abducted Sudanese within the LRA the entire time I was with the LRA in Sudan…. We’d take young girls….. as young as eight… they were used for fighting, most were killed in battle, and they would be put in front.” According to Luke Falkenburg, Journal Article (March 15, 2013)
Reintegration of former child soldiers who escape or are rescued is vital to prevent violent behaviors created at youth from being carried over into adulthood, which can perpetuate a continuous cycle of instability and violent behavior for countries. According to Luke Falkenburg, Journal Article (March 15, 2013), It is estimated that 13-43% of youth, average range age from thirteen (13) to eighteen (18), actually make it to a reception center, where throughout two to six weeks receive medical attention and receive help in locating their families. As of 2006, there were only nine of these reception centers in operation. Clearly the response for addressing child soldiering is inadequate to the demand. Children have a range of needs to be attended to such as: malnourishment, skin infections, wounds, infections, HIV/Aids, and many are maimed both physically and psychologically. Moreover, the fact that the youth who return are over 18, and thus receive less attention than children, even if they were abducted at a younger age. Children who are able to locate their families are often greeted with fear rather than welcome, which prevent them from coping with their past experience and re-entering society. Girl returnees, in addition to the aforementioned health issues, may be seen by their societies as impure and unfit for marriage. If former child soldiers’ Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) is not addressed early on, it will create lifelong problems for the individual, which will prove more difficult to address as time goes on.
First, Uganda’s reintegration process needs to be reformed. According to Michael Wessels, PhD, and author of Child soldiers: From violence to protection (Harvard University Press, 2006) recognizes four progressive reintegration methods; Family Tracing, Psychological Support, Livelihood Support (i.e. vocational training), and Education/Literacy Programs. The current programs that run two to six weeks should be extended to facilitate this reform. Also, the nine reception centers in operation are inadequate to meet the demand. The international community can easily increase funding to meet this demand and finance new centers in Uganda. Additionally, reception centers must be required to keep better databases in order to provide better follow-up services to victims of child soldiering. Moreover, collaborative projects in communities with their former child soldiers should be encouraged to help communities grow and help rebuild trust. To help rebuild the communities’ trust, traditional justice programs should be encouraged and recognized. Currently, many returnees undergo “egg ceremonies” (eggs are symbols of purity) which serve to ward off the angry spirits that haunt the children.
Secondly, Uganda should continue efforts to raise awareness and training for dealing with child soldiers that are found by the UPDF. In 2011, the UPDF received 83 LRA children and sent them to the appropriate rehabilitation centers.
Third, until peace is achieved, it is necessary to increase prevention methods. This could be achieved by introducing a mobile communications network between villages. By increasing communication, LRA activity will be better monitored, which will reduce abduction rates of children if villages and schools evacuate prior to attacks.
Fourth, greater attempts at negotiation need to be facilitated. One such attempt came from Kony’s second in command, General Vincent Otti, who was shot for advocating peace in 2007. Other negotiations, such as the 2008 Juba peace agreement, failed because Kony only appears to be seeking resolution in order to give his forces time to rearm, regroup, and bolster their ranks with children. Despite Kony’s rejection of peace, the case illustrates that the LRA’s top leaders may be willing to take advantage of Uganda’s amnesty and so these efforts must continue. If enough leaders are persuaded, Kony could be effectively weakened and marginalized, creating favorable conditions for his apprehension and an end to Uganda’s child soldiering.
Lastly, amnesty must be continually offered, despite how disgusting it appears in some cases. The current general amnesty being offered to former combatants must be continued. Since 2000, 24,000 LRA members have received amnesty according the Ugandan Amnesty Commission. This shows that amnesty has been successful in mitigating the LRA threat. Conversely, if the LRA leaders believe they have no choice but to keep on fighting children will be continuously abducted.
In order to effectively address children and youth soldiering, all approaches require the conflict to end, which requires decisive battlefield victories possibly coupled with negotiations. Thus strong regional and international support, and not just the current condemnation and sole UPDF engagement, is required. Anything short of this will prove to be insufficient at stemming the tied of child soldiers, which has been flowing since 1986. The previously mentioned options, although necessary, are only Band-Aid fixes, which will fail to completely stop looting, rape, murder, and child abductions at the hands of the LRA.
Regionally the LRA is a concern of Uganda, the DRC, CAR, and Sudan therefore must be recognized as such to ensure regional collaborative measures are implemented. For instance, Uganda and the DRC should attempt to imitate “Operation Iron First” into the DRC/CAR, without the mishaps of “Operation Rolling Thunder.” A successful operation may inflict irreparable damage on the LRA. This is evident by the fact that in the 1990s the LRA’s forces were estimated to number between 3,000-4,000 members. Now some estimates reach 1,000, although many believe the numbers to be around 500-700. Human Rights Watch (2010) estimated their strength to be between 200-250. However, since the DRC/CAR are too weak to enforce policy within their territory even with Ugandan help, the “Sudan” solution becomes more problematic. Moreover, African governments in general must continue to treat the LRA as a major breach of regional security. With a stronger international or regional presence (i.e. the African Union) inside the DRC, the LRA could be forced to the negotiating table if outright elimination proves non-executable.
Internationally, the response has been inadequate and ineffective. For instance, the ICC’s arrest warrants in 2005 for five LRA leaders is problematic. Although prosecution is justified, these warrants ignore Uganda’s 2000 general amnesty for LRA members who renounce violence, which make it more unlikely that the LRA will negotiate if they believe they will be tried for war crimes. Thus, the ICC’s actions give the LRA nothing to lose and no incentives to stop child abductions. Therefore, the ICC must be willing to withdraw the warrants and recognize amnesty for LRA members (with the exception of Kony), while simultaneously maintaining strong military pressure, which will end in a decisive battlefield victory or force the LRA to negotiate and give up Kony. Additionally, the U.S. and the international community must recognize child soldiers as victims and not perpetrators of violence, to ensure children who were forced to commit violent acts are not immediately dubbed as war criminals and tried as such.
Finally, implementation of these measures requires an expansion of international aid, equipment, training, and technological support to Ugandan and regional governments to help monitor and combat LRA activities. According to the U.S. Department of State’s, Trafficking in Persons Report (2011), all the states mentioned are weak tier 3 states, with the exception of Uganda, a tier 2 state. As these states are too weak to confront the LRA on their own, international support becomes imperative. Already, the U.S. through the “LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act,” signed in 2010, has accepted a larger role in apprehending key leaders who are responsible for the abductions of children. In 2011, President Obama dispatched 100 troops to the region to assist, as advisors, in the apprehension of the LRA leadership. These efforts must continue and will likely enjoy increasing international support with the emergence of awareness campaigns, such as Kony 2012. Even if these efforts fail to completely defeat the LRA on the battlefield they may force enough LRA members to defect or head to the negotiating table effectively isolating Kony and neutralizing the LRA threat and child abductions.
Ø The impact of armed conflict on children and youth must be everyone’s concern and is everyone’s responsibility.
Ø The protection of children and youth in armed conflict is a peace and security issue. At the same time, deterrence, protection and prevention all require a multifaceted approach and the continued engagement of us all.
Ø To be truly effective, however, the fight against impunity requires action at the national level. National legislation, national prosecutions and national systems to prevent recruitment and other grave violations against children and youth in situations of armed conflict must be established, and efforts to support national capacity to do this must also be supported.
Ø Peacebuilding strategies are entry points where strategic interventions that address or redress the impact of armed conflict on children and youth need further review. The needs of children and youth who have been gravely impacted must and should be addressed for the longer-term security of post-conflict societies. In this I would suggest that, where children have been engaged in conflict, education, training and youth employment are areas that need to be further prioritized in reconstruction and Peacebuilding strategies.
Furthermore, I concur with Aaron Young Jacobsen’s, (2007) recommendations where he suggests that, strategies should be based on lessons learned from the experiences of countries facing similar problems. That is to say:-
1. End the conflict. The international community should focus on ending the conflict to decrease demand for child soldiers, preventing recruitment to limit their supply, and demobilizing and rehabilitating identified child soldiers. This would be the most effective strategy for reducing the use of child soldiers. The process of demobilizing and rehabilitating child soldiers should begin with the end of the conflict in which they are participating. However, this might be infeasible in Uganda, where the civil war has endured for decades.
2. Prevent recruitment. If ending the conflict is not possible, as it might be in the Ugandan case, then the international community should support national and community efforts to try to prevent abduction and recruitment of child soldiers by the LRA or UPDF. This may involve, for example, monitoring rural areas or towns to make these areas safer for children; however, this is clearly a short- term strategy. Long-term policies should aim to improve economic opportunities in northern Uganda, to offer communities more constructive alternatives to fighting.
3. Improve identification methodology. It is also difficult to identify child soldiers among members of armed forces. Using an age threshold is a positive first step, but should take social and cultural values into account so it will not be an arbitrary cut-off. In addition, the identification and demobilization of girls accompanying armed forces presents special challenges, since girls may serve as sex slaves, servants, or soldiers. Some girls may have become pregnant and borne children of their own during their time with the armed forces. Each of these roles carries specific social stigmas that these girls must engage during the rehabilitation process.
4. Demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate. When child soldiers are identified, the international community can use centralized and decentralized (local, community-based) methods to demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate them. There is no one right way to rehabilitate or reintegrate demobilized children, but the international community can most effectively implement a bottom-up approach to this process. International organizations, states, and international NGOs should focus on providing community and family members with the resources and assistance they need to successfully reunite and reintegrate former child-soldiers with their communities. This is an important part of the rehabilitation process, since it is often difficult for a child to deal with emotional issues of abuse before they even know where or with whom they will be living. It is particularly important to build the capacities of recipients, since without any complementary technical assistance the effectiveness of financial aid will probably be low.
5. Provide resources for education and training. Finally, international actors should help provide sustained financial resources and technical assistance to institutionalize formal and informal educational and vocational training programs for demobilized child soldiers. With broader missions beyond just formal education, schools can also serve as bases for local interventions by becoming centers to mobilize community members and resources. These programs can build capacity for former child soldiers to better take advantage of long- term economic, political, and social opportunities following the reintegration process. Even if these opportunities do not exist at present, which might be the case in northern Uganda, strategies to accumulate human capital should aim to improve the overall development conditions of the region in the long- term.
Actions taken by the national government, foreign states, IOs, and NGOs in Uganda are an admirable beginning but have not gone far enough to address the problem of child soldiers used by both sides in the current civil war. Countries similar to Uganda, such as Angola, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone, have used different strategies to address the problem with mixed results. Lessons learned from these country cases are applicable in Uganda.
The international community can implement a combination of several strategies to address the problem of child soldiers, specifically focusing on their use in the Ugandan civil war.
Children and youth should be protected and empowered as agents of peace. In addition, mechanisms must be found and implemented to ensure that children’s rights are respected in situations of armed and violent conflict, as well as in efforts towards comprehensive peacebuilding. When talking about and acting upon security issues, it is crucial that all actors understand and respond to the different ways in which girls and boys of different ages and abilities are affected by violent conflict and insecurity. Continual efforts are needed to ensure that the actions of security actors have a positive impact on the lives of girls, boys, women and men through the promotion and protection of children’s rights as an integral part of efforts to fulfill human rights in war, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. Ongoing efforts are also needed to ensure that children and young people play a role in taking forward peace rather than conflict. As expressed in the quote from a formerly abducted girl associated with the rebel group in Northern Uganda, we should listen and act upon children’s views. We should support the power of children’s voices, and not the power of the gun.
Chief Publisher of the World Report News Africa News column and of all African news publications at WRN, Zirra Banu also serves as a ECOWAS Peace Ambassador and was the managing editor of Face2Face Africa. She is the founder of the Sapel Gold Foundation and the co-founder of Water For Life Nigeria. Zirra received her Master's degrees in International Relations, International Economics, and Conflict Management in Africa from The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.