(WNN) UNITED NATIONS, N.Y, New York: Reporting stark and continuing conditions for children under the LRA – Lord’s Resistance Army in what has been called abductions, forced child soldiers and the sexual slavery of girls, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has released the first of a series reports on the criminal activities of the LRA from 2009 to the present.
From 2009 to 2012 the UN report says 591 children, including 268 girls were abducted and forced to work as operatives by LRA forces in regions that include the DRC – Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan and the CAR – Central African Republic.
“Cases of sexual violence are believed to be particularly underreported,” says the report by the Office of the UN Secretary General.
With crimes that include the recruitment of children, the impact of the LRA on communities in affected regions has been pervasive the report reveals.
“It is believed that most adults in the LRA ranks were recruited as children. Some 440,000 persons are estimated to have been displaced by LRA, both internally and across borders, since 2008,” continues the report.
The LRA has conducted its operations through roaming military units infiltrating a vast land region of 400,000 square kilometres the report outlines. “Sporadic but regular attacks against the civilian population in remote and inaccessible areas have led to the death, injury and abduction of children. Recent attacks appear to be aimed at
ensuring the group’s survival through the pillaging of food, medicine and arms,” the report by Secretary Ban details.
“The LRA continues to cast a long shadow across central Africa, causing enormous suffering for children,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, at a press conference at UN Headquarters on Wednesday June 6.
On October 2009 a regional meeting in Nairobi, Kenya was organized by UNICEF – United Nations Children’s Fund to build a coordinated effort to protect and come to the aid of children who have been abducted by LRA forces. This included working on a groundwork for children through regional protective services to receive care and rehabilitation that included reintegration and, where relevant, repatriation.
Specific care and assistance for children, spanning the period covered in the report, came for 47 girls and 59 boys from Uganda, a number totaling 106 children. This was organized by the United Nations through NGO – Non Governmental Organizations charity reception centers in northern Uganda where children could receive counseling, help to reunite with their families and “age-appropriate vocational counseling.” Helping young mothers, who have been forced to be concubine ‘wives’ for LRA soldiers, to reintegrate back into their home society has also been a strong part of the goal.
“The programmes also included culture-appropriate ceremonies to reduce stigmatization and increase the social
acceptance of young mothers returning with children born in captivity,” outlines the report.
But the program has not come without its problems. An 11-year-old Congolese girl and a 17-year-old Sudanese boy were “erroneously transported” to Uganda in September 2010 by the UPDF – Uganda People’s Defense Force, which has been used in cooperation with UNICEF to find and help place child soldiers into regional programs offering assistance. Mistrust of the UPDF has also been a problem throughout Uganda as former LRA operatives have been used by the UPDF to track LRA activities in the past.
One year ago on May 2011, the UPDF Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, signed and agreed to follow the standard operating procedures for reception and handover of children separated from the LRA. This included a requirement that the UPDF would notify the United Nations about the presence of all children connected to the LRA within 48 hours of discovery with an official hand-over of the children to UNICEF, or another designated UN or humanitarian agency, within 7 days. The UPDF operates currently in regions spanning the DRC – Democratic Republic of the Congo, the CAR – Central African Republic and South Sudan.
“The number of children killed and maimed appears to have declined since 2008, perhaps due to increased protection efforts by the United Nations peacekeepers, the massive displacement of civilians fleeing the LRA threat, and the presence of security forces in the LRA’s area of operations,” outlines a recent June 6 release on conditions in the region by the UN Office of Special Representative Coomaraswamy.
“I am encouraged by the renewed international attention to the issue and the actions taken to stop all violations against children by the LRA,” said Coomaraswamy on Wednesday June 6.
“The recruitment and use of children in warfare violates international law. It also violates our most basic standards of human decency,” emphasized UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in 2009 during Red Hand Day, an initiative created to bring international attention and support to the plight of child soldiers worldwide. “I will do everything in my power to stop the suffering of these children,” continued Secretary Ban in 2009.
Appearing as a 2010 trend inside the DRC, child abdutees have been used to transport stolen “loot” before they were left behind, or escaped, LRC forces. “…this suggests a change in the modus operandi of the LRA,” says the recent Wednesday United Nations release on child soldiers.
“Last year alone (2010), around 10,000 children associated with armed groups were released. We must now secure longer term international support for their full reintegration back into their communities. This is an essential component of peacebuilding and development,” said Secretary Ban before the United Nations Security Council in July 2011.
Sharing that the number of children killed and maimed appears to have declined since 2008, UN Special Representative Coomaraswamy also shared ‘relative good news,’ conveying that the LRA no longer attacks schools and hospitals. Despite this LRA attacks have continued to intimidate the families of thousands of displaced children from attending school.
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