Even Children Face Christian Violence in Uganda
Fear of Kidnapping Drives Thousands to Towns
This report comes from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The number of children in northern Uganda who take refuge in towns every night from their rural homes for fear of being abducted by rebels is declining, but thousands of children are still vulnerable, aid workers said.
In Gulu district, where abduction of children by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was rampant, the number of ‘night commuters’ has fallen from 25,000 in February 2004 to less than 4,000 at present, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"The children who are commuting have self-selected themselves as the most vulnerable children in Gulu," Michael Copland, UNICEF child protection officer in Gulu, said. "...We are not having abductions here at the moment. It is for protection problems, family problems, welfare problems."
UNICEF said the long-term consequences of the 21-year war between the Ugandan government and the LRA included the disruption of family and community child welfare and protection structures. This had left thousands of children in need of support, despite improving security in the region.
The war has also led to family breakdowns and lack of supervision of the children. "At their homes the children might be exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation," Copland said. "Children are also commuting because there is a perception of a higher quality of life in the shelters."
Many of the children who were still spending nights in the shelters had parents who were in second marriages or whose families lived in very crowded conditions.
The solution, Copland added, did not lie in closing down the shelters where children sought protection, but in screening them and carrying out family assessments to identify those who needed long-term support. Those would be placed with extended families or other foster parents, said Copland.
"Screening of the children and family assessments has started but the process is being slowed down by the scarcity of trained staff," he added.
Rasmus Bjerngaard, the officer in charge of a children's shelter run by Médecins Sans Frontières at the Lacor hospital in Gulu town, said most of the children who sought out night shelters would never be able to integrate into normal family settings, and would therefore require long-term care.
"Night commuting is a symptom of a more complex situation where the social, cultural and family structures are disrupted; even if the security situation seems to improve, the normal structures are no longer in place [to support children]," said Bjerngaard.
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