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Top 10 Facts About Child Soldiers in Uganda
Uganda is a landlocked country located in East Africa that currently holds a relatively stable political environment and a steadily developing economy; however, before this hard-earned progress, the country had to endure several coups and a seemingly formidable military dictatorship following its independence from Great Britain in 1962. One of the most well-known dictators of that era was Idi Amin Dada, who took the drastic action of expelling all Asians in the nation in the 1980s. In addition, Uganda has a vast political history marked by longstanding effects of continuous instability which includes more than four coups since the nation’s independence.

The article below illuminates the top 10 facts about child soldiers in Uganda and displays how this population interacts with the nation’s historical emergence.

Top 10 Facts About Child Soldiers in Uganda

  1. Uganda’s volatile political atmosphere paved the way for a brutal 20-year rebel insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that began in the nation’s northern region. This organization became notorious for child abductions that were done to fill its ranks, in addition to its brutal crimes.
  2. According to a UNICEF report, almost 20,000 children have been forcefully recruited in the 19-year conflict.
  3. The emergence of the LRA rebel group — initially called the Holy Spirit Movement — is one of the major attributes of the country’s instability. This organization is known as one of the world’s most brutal and inhumane terroristic organizations.
  4. Lord’s Resistance Army demands that Uganda is governed according to the Biblical 10 Commandments, and has also directed its forces to fight against President Yoweri’s oppression of Northern Uganda.
  5. The LRA was founded by a member of the Acholi Ethnolinguistic Group, Alice Auma (later known as Alice Lawkena), who declared herself as a messenger of the spirits. She led the first army of rebels against President Yoweri Museveni and was exiled in 1987 after being defeated.
  6. The LRA is currently headed by Joseph Kony who took control of the rebel group after Lawkena, who is rumored to be his cousin and gave the group its current name and tried to sustain the army to no avail.
  7. During this transition period, the LRA lost significant regional support and resources and resorted to a series of lethal rebellious actions that included stealing supplies and abducting children to serve as soldiers. The abductions came to mark the beginning of child soldiers in Uganda when the practice began occurring in earnest in 1994.
  8. Following this strategy shift, the LRA became made up mostly of child soldiers. Ninety percent of the forces abducted into the army disrupted the northern part of the country to the point that the population had to disperse in IDP camps — disease-infested areas that lacked resources and appropriate treatment.
  9. A major part of LRA’ s method of aligning new recruits with the rebel group’s overarching agenda is to reaffirm a notion of hopelessness. Spreading such ideological perspectives included heinous instruction i.e. forcing members to kill their parents and anyone deemed close to the child. If a child refused to perform these tasks, he or she would then face death in front of the other recruits so as to instill fear in other new recruits.
  10. Thirty percent of child soldiers recruited by the LRA are women whose main roles in the army include cooking for soldiers and serving as sex slaves. One of the most infamous abduction incidents occurred in 2005 when 200 girls were abducted from a Catholic school.

Rehabilitation and Reintegration

The LRA seems to be a shadow of what it used to be after being pushed out of the country following a major expedition in the mid-2000s. Governmental and nongovernmental international forces — such as the U.S. — played important roles in creating global awareness of the destruction and inhumane methods of the group. However, Kony and some army members remain elusive and are reported to roam untraced around fragile nations in central Africa.

While efforts to catch the leading forces of this group and bring them to justice remains significant, the rehabilitation and reintegration of those individuals who endured traumas at the hands of the LRA is a pressing issue that requires all hands on deck.

– Bilen Kassie
Photo: Flickr

gang violence

In March, El Salvador, a country that has been struggling to reinvent itself since its bitter 12-year civil war between Marxist rebels and the government ended in 1993, experienced the highest levels of gang-related deaths in over a decade.

According to the BBC, March was the deadliest month in El Salvadorian history since the end of the civil war — with over 11 percent of the population engaged in some form of gang-related activity. Much of this violence was, and continues to be, perpetrated by gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street Gang, both of which have origins in Los Angeles, where they were founded by Central American immigrants. Following forced expulsion out of the United States and back to their home countries, these migrants then settled back into life in El Salvador — carving neighborhoods into various gang-controlled territories in the process.

In 2012, El Salvador’s main gangs signed a truce in an effort to end gang-sponsored violence, which initially saw a drop in gang-related death by 40 percent. Since then, however, gang activity has picked up again at an increasingly violent pace. Currently, El Salvador is on the path to becoming one of the deadliest peacetime countries in the world, with roughly 15 homicides occurring every day in the country of six million, according to PBS.

However, since March, there has been a slight decrease in the number of violent incidences. This is thanks to the efforts of private companies, which have begun to recruit former gang members as employees in an effort to help stall the surge of violence currently overtaking the country.

League Central America, for instance, is a private company that works stitching logos onto American University clothing, such as sweaters bound for Harvard and Brown. One out of ten employees at League Central America are former gang members, who mainly hail from the country’s most notorious gangs; the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha.

According to one employee, who went by the name Jorge, “There are lots of former gang members who want to change their lives but [don’t] have a way out…because of the lack of work, the poverty.”

Company boss Rodrigo Bolanos, however, stated that companies can help improve the situation, saying, “In the process of suffocating the economy and the country the private companies need to take a position to look for a dignified way out.”

In light of this, private companies like League Central America are making important strides in starting to help the country battle against increasing rates of homicide, by helping former gang members find a way out of poverty by offering them entrance jobs with the chance of upwards mobility.

Jorge has stated that he is eternally grateful to the company for offering him a way out of the gangs and gang violence — and a new chance at life.

Jorge, who only recently started working at the company, is now the chief pattern cutter.

Ana Powell

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, PBS
Photo: Flickr

National Solidarity Program: Infrastructure in Afghanistan
The first step to helping those in need is having a supportive government enforcing small-scale changes. The National Solidarity Program (NSP) located in Afghanistan is the rehabilitation and development program for rural parts of the nation. It has supported the rights and needs of 18 million people and has helped to construct infrastructure, meet basic community needs, administer democracy and save lives.

The NSP is a program working for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD). It has a set budget of $2.6 billion for the years between 2003 and 2016.

The Nangarhar Province has demonstrated resiliency thanks to NSP. Since NSP’s installation in 2003, it has crated 32,000 Community Development Councils (CDCs) within 36 districts of each province in Afghanistan. It has financed 65,000 projects.

In 2013, NSP was known as the largest development program in Afghanistan. Evaluations have proven that NSP advances access to education, basic utilities, health care and counseling, specifically for women. NSP has created a platform for governance, democratic processes and female participation in rural villages.

The program was based on the hopes that villages could improve themselves with two approaches. NSP aimed to create gender-balanced CDCs and to fund villages through family grants. These grants were meant to enhance village projects managed by CDCs along with public input.

More than 250,000 families were provided technical help thanks to 806 CDCs in just four provinces. Effort to improve development has affected 141,050 people.

Some projects underway in the Nangarhar Province include digging wells, creating sewing jobs for women, building sewer drains and constructing buildings for community meetings. One function of the CDC is to take village complaints and design resolutions. Since residents and neighbors to villages find it to be an effective and sustainable practice, they feel safe to make home in the more promising region.

In 2009, there were 275 families in Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village. There are now 1,200 people living in the village.

The program has increased school attendance and the quality of education for girls. Health institutes have had a rise of child doctors, prenatal visits and curability of preventable disease with thanks to NSP. The program has also managed to increase access to clean water and sanitation.

Funding from World Bank, Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and Japan Social Development Fund are supporting the program. Haji Zumarai leads the CDC in Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village. He’s very grateful for the $50,000 grant funding village development efforts since 2009.

Partners of NSP have helped to improve water and sanitation. NSP’s 31 facilitating partners work within CDCs to contrive 86 thousand small-scale reconstruction and development projects. In addition, they maintain rural roads, irrigation, energy supply, health facilities and education.

BRAC is one facilitation partner of MRRD that helps construct infrastructure outside NSP. It builds systems, latrines, irrigation canals, micro-hydroelectric planets, protection walls, roads, bridges and schools.

It’s partnership with NSP is creating a self-sustainable rural Afghanistan. BRAC encourages democracy by helping to supervise and facilitate CDCs in places like Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai. It prioritizes infrastructure capabilities, aids with project overhaul and oversees transparency efforts.

NSP has bettered small-scale efforts for many by focusing on critical and essential needs in rural villages. In Sayed Ahmad Ghazi Village of the Kabul Province, NSP constructed clinics that are saving lives. MRRD granted $50,000 in funding. Local villages helped by producing $14,000.

Under Dr. Mastorah Ahmadi, two women and one man help oversee 50 patients a day. This has benefited 1,400 families. Children are receiving vaccinations and the workers are quickly treating preventable diseases.

Communities continue to prosper with these programs that minimize the hazardous implications of living in rural Afghanistan. Soon rural living will safe and readily sustainable. The Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village stands as an example of success when community-focused programs like NSP work intricately with members and leaders.

Katie Groe

Sources: Bakhtar News, World Bank 1, Wadsam, World Bank 2, World Bank 3, BRAC
Photo: Worldbank

disabled children
The Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children, the only children’s orthopedic hospital in Nepal, is working toward treating Nepalese children and performing affordable surgeries that would otherwise go undone.

In Nepal, about 83 percent of the population lives below the $2 a day poverty line. Once a child gets sick, it is unlikely that its family can make it to a treatment center or hospital, and less likely that the family could pay for for the treatment without crippling its savings. The HCDR was created to change that.

The HCDR was erected in 1997, but the team has been working with children’s surgeries since 1985 in remote villages and smaller buildings. The organization’s founder and current leader is Dr. Ashok Kumar Banskota, a Nepalese doctor who was educated in India and the United States.

Once he returned to Nepal after his studies, Dr. Banskota wanted to make healthcare accessible to all who need it in his home country rather than to just the rich or those in the most accessible regions.

The HCDR is a tertiary level pediatric hospital that performs about 1,500 surgeries each year, and provides physical therapy and prosthetics when needed. In order to reach as many patients as possible for aftercare, HCDR has community-based rehabilitation services that follow up with patients in their villages and show families how to properly care for their children after surgery.

The team has worked hard to make its care accessible to all, with the average cost of surgery at only $151. It has also incorporated home visits to make post-surgery adjustments easier on the patients as well.

HRDC works on continually training new doctors to keep its hospital well staffed. They get trained in Primary Rehabilitation Therapy in order to continue recovery for patients. There are also periodic courses offered to keep everyone up to date.

A study done to test the impact of HRDC on the patients it has treated previously showed positive results. The study showed over 90 percent of the children reported positive impact from HRDC treatment on further growth and development, both physically and socially.

Courtney Prentice

Sources: Global Giving, Himalayan Foundation, Google, HRDC Nepal
Photo: Talk Vietnam

odanadi
Odanadi, founded 20 years ago by two former journalists, combats human trafficking through spreading awareness, rescue missions and rehabilitation of former victims. Part of the therapy involved in rehabilitation involves yoga, practiced to maintain physical and mental strength, and it allows those who have been physically abused to reclaim their bodies.

For the last five years Odanadi has advertised a global event called Yoga Stops Human Traffick; participants bring their yoga mat and dedicate their practice to raising awareness on behalf of those who have survived so much at the hands of traffickers. Odanadi claims that those who take part in of their 105 events around the world are “demonstrating [their] solidarity and support for [former victims of human trafficking], as well as sending a message of defiance against a world which allows these horrific abuses to take place.”

Last Saturday, on March 15th, yogis in 26 countries rolled out their mats at home, in yoga studios, shopping malls, parks, and beaches to spiritually join those in Mysore Palace for 108 sun salutations.

The annual event also offers an opportunity to raise funds for Odanadi, and in 2013 they succeeded in raising £25,000 (~$34,500). This money was then spent on promoting literacy and women’s empowerment, supporting the two rehabilitation centers in Mysore, India and ultimately reuniting young trafficking victims with their families once they have the tools to be face mainstream society as confident individuals.

Through the efforts of Odanadi, 138 traffickers have been arrested, 200,000 school children have been educated about sexual exploitation, 630 missing children have been reunited with their families, and over 2,000 women and minors have successfully gone through their rehabilitation program.

Other methods of psycho-social therapies practiced by Odanadi beneficiaries include karate, art, drama and traditional dance – all in addition to individual counseling. Education is greatly stressed through the program, and enrollment in local schools, colleges and universities is encouraged.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: NBC, Odanadi, Ashtanga Magazine
Photo: Yoga Stops Trafficking

al qaeda
The youth who have grown up saturated with extreme jihadist ideology will form a criminal generation that poses a threat to not only their country, but to the world.

Children, almost exclusively young boys, are targeted by terrorist groups to be trained to be military-minded from a young age for several reasons. Most importantly, they are easier to persuade and control. Many recruited children are orphans who have grown up in conflict zones. The inclusion in a powerful group gives them the illusion of acceptance.

Children can also move around unnoticed much easier than adults; they are more likely to be overlooked in a situation where a man might trigger caution, and soldiers often hesitate to shoot them even if they know the child is carrying explosives.

Most importantly for recruiters, children who are trained as extremist soldiers will grow into adults willing to kill and die for those same ideals and will offer up their own children to the same training. Cairo University psychology professor and family relations consultant Waliyuddine Mukhtar says that “As a result [of their intensive training], years from now, a new generation of youth will emerge and pose a very serious threat not only to Syria but to surrounding countries as well.

Camps to train “cubs” have been opened in Syria and have released  footage showing children ages four to 17 years old shooting AK-47s, undergoing military training and shouting for the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Recruiters rely heavily on orphans and the donated children of extremist families to fill these ranks.

Egyptian child psychologist and Ain Shams University lecturer Enas al-Jamal discusses the devastating effects on the psyche of child soldiers. “This child grows up on violence and the use of force, while internally suppressing fear that could erupt at any time after he is moved away from the fighting.”

Al-Jamal is realistic about the hardship of establishing these children in a peaceful civilian lifestyle. “The difficulty in rehabilitation stems from the fact that they were subjected to comprehensive brainwashing that turned them into killing machines convinced of the legitimacy of murder and suicide via suicide bombings.”

The work of undoing everything these children are being taught will take tremendous effort and a collective awareness. The leaders of al-Qaeda may be cut down, but they have planted their seeds deeply. However, people’s tending to those seeds could prevent their resurrection.

Lydia Caswell

Sources: Al-Shorfa.com, Central Asia Online, Hudson Institute
Photo: Sodaheadr

child soldier facts
The subject of many a documentary, news report, and even novel, the figure of the child soldier emerged onto the global stage in the late 20th century, largely the result of publicized conflicts in places like Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The heartbreaking and sometimes frightening images of children—almost all of them African boys—turned into violent killers captured the attention of many in the west.  Like most images, these tell only a part of the story.  Here are five important and sobering facts about child soldiers.

1. Not all child soldiers are African. The organization Child Soldiers International reports that “since 2000, the participation of child soldiers has been reported in most armed conflicts and in almost every region of the world.” No exact figures have been compiled, but some estimates put the number at 250,000 child soldiers currently fighting in conflicts around the world. Countries where child soldiers can be found include Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, the Philippines, Colombia, Thailand, India, Somalia, and Yemen.

2. Child soldiers do more than just fight. Child soldiers not only fight on the front lines, but they also serve as runners, spies, and in some cases human shields. Many of them are also sexually abused and exploited.

3. Not all child soldiers are boys. Girls under 18 are often recruited or captured during conflicts, and most of the time they suffer sexual abuse and exploitation. An estimated 40% of child soldiers are girls.

4. Child soldiers are both recruited and forced into serving. Many soldiers are violently kidnapped and forced to serve in armies or in opposition groups.  Some, however, are drawn in because poverty and deprivation leave them vulnerable to the promise of money, food, and clothing if they take up arms. Desperation proves to be a powerful motivating force for some children.

5. Child soldiers can be and have been rehabilitated. Despite the horrors they have suffered and in many cases committed, these soldiers are children forced or lured into war. Many organizations around the globe work to provide the therapy, medical attention, and education that these children need. Hundreds of former soldiers have benefited from this kind of care and been reunited with family members and loved ones.

– Délice Williams

Sources: Child Soldiers.org, Peace Direct USA
Photo: MW