Uganda is a country whose past is marred by a rich history of political coups and instability. Uganda has seen over 4 coups since its inception and has more than its fair share of dictators, the most infamous being Idi Amin Dada who expelled all Asians from the country in the 1980s.
Uganda Child Soldiers – History
The country is also home to one of the most lethal and inhumane rebel movements in the world: the Lords Resistant Army. The LRA is headed by Joseph Kony who claims to be a medium and demands that Uganda should be run according to the Ten Commandments. It was initially regarded as the Holy Spirit Movement which rebelled against President Yoweri’s oppression of the north of Uganda.
It was founded and headed by Alice Lakwema (Alice Auma), a member of the Acholi Ethnolinguistic Group who claimed to be a messenger of the spirits. Leading an army of rebels against the Yoweri Museveni, she was defeated by his army and she fled afterward.
Taking over from Alice Lakwena who was exiled 1987, Joseph Kony, who was said to be her cousin changed the name to LRA and sought ways to sustain the system. Things turned sour when a seemingly stable system went savage in the bid for sustainability.
Having lost regional support, Kony adopted rebellious ways as he saw to the stealing of supplies and abducting of children to fill his ranks which marked the birth of Child soldiers in Uganda. Joseph Kony incorporated child soldiers into his ranks with a large part of his army being made up of child soldiers.
The LRA terrorized Uganda for years causing the northern part of the country to disperse to IDP camps which would later become saturated with ill-treatment, malnutrition, and utter sordidness.
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Child Soldiers in Uganda – Facts
Majority of child soldiers are abducted
Recruitment of child soldiers in the LRA started off in early 1994. This was as a result of a general decline in the number of individuals willing to join the LRA mainly due to the atrocities committed by the rebel group on the civilian population. As a result, the rebel group resorted to kidnapping young children and forcefully recruiting them into the rebel group.
Child soldiers are forced to kill their parents and close relatives
In a bid to break the bond between would-be child soldiers and their families, the new recruits are usually forced to kill their parents, close relatives, and even neighbours. This is usually done to reduce the chances of the recruits running since they have nothing to go back to. According to some of the former child soldiers, most recruits were forced to beat their parents to death while in some instances, a recruit would be given a machete and forced to hack up to 10 people to death. This was considered as part of the initiation process.
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Child soldiers who fail the initiation process are killed
The LRA use fear as a tool when recruiting children. As such, children who fail to go through the initiation process are usually killed so as to instil fear on the other recruits. According to an eye-witness account, recruits who would fail to hack their parents or relatives to death would be hit by a club at the back of their necks or systematically chopped up using a machete.
A majority of the recruits are school children
Majority of the recruits are school children. In the early 2000s, Joseph Kony and the LRA used to carry out systematic raids on schools within northern Uganda and abduct nearly the entire student population. Villages were also targeted but the LRA considered schools as the best targets since the students would be in dormitories making the entire process easier.
30 percent of the child soldiers are women
Up to 30 percent of the child soldiers in Uganda are women. They do not necessarily do the fighting. Their major responsibility is to cook for the troops and also serve as sex slaves. The most notable abduction incident in LRA history was in 2005 when over 200 girls were abducted from a Catholic-run school.
Over 30 percent of LRA is made up of second generation child soldiers
Second generation child soldiers can be best described as children born within the LRA. These children are increasingly being incorporated within the ranks of LRA.
Rituals are performed during the initiation
Most communities in Uganda are superstitious in nature. As such, the LRA takes this into consideration when admitting new recruits to the rebel movement. Rituals are normally incorporated into the killings with some recruits being forced to drink blood or swear a blood oath. In one incident, a former child soldier said that they were forced to write an oath on their chests with human blood and told that the dead will haunt them if they tried to escape.
Children who try to escape are killed
Children who try to escape from the LRA are normally killed. The escapee would be told to lay face-down on the ground and hit repeatedly at the back of the head till he or she died.
Child soldiers are posted far from their homeland
Child soldiers in the LRA would usually be posted far from their homelands for a prolonged period of time so as to reduce the chances of them escaping.
Child Soldiers In Uganda – Statistics
A report by the Human Rights Watch said that more than 120,000 children under 18 years of age are being used as soldiers across Africa. Another report by the United Nations says that minors make up almost 90% of the LRA’s soldiers.
The report continues that up to 30,000 children have been abducted since the inception of the crisis in the 80s; to work as child soldiers in Uganda. Some are made to serve as wives of soldiers or their servants.
These children who most times fall into the unfortunate category are mostly forced to join or are left with no choice but joining the group.