August 28 2002
Aid project launched for child victims of war in northern Uganda
Gulu/Uganda (28 August 2002) - In the past fifteen years rebel groups, like the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), have abducted thousands of children in northern Uganda to abuse them as soldiers, slaves and "brides". With the military conflict escalating in the last few months, large numbers of these children have regained their freedom, including child soldiers, underage mothers with their babies, and orphaned children. In an initial response to these dramatic developments, SOS Children's Villages has established an emergency aid centre in Gulu city to take in abandoned children until November, when a temporary SOS Children's Village will be ready.
The northern districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader have been seriously affected by the year-long fighting between the Lord's Resistance Army commanded by the self-proclaimed "prophet" Joseph Kony and Ugandan government troops. Criminal acts and violence against the civilian population, including the abduction of children, often to the south of the Sudan, are a fact of life there.
In the course of the March offensive launched against the LRA on the territory of southern Sudan - code-named "Iron Fist" - many of the abducted children were left behind by the fleeing rebels and are now finding their way across the border to Uganda. The northern districts of Uganda are already finding it extremely difficult to cope with a large orphan population as a result of AIDS, and a high level of child abandonment due to various social problems. The resources needed to provide for the children released by the LRA are therefore almost non-existent.
A number of local and international NGOs with whom SOS Children's Villages are collaborating locally have opened reception centres, which offer short-term assistance and counselling before family reunification. Since existing orphanages are overcrowded, SOS Children's Villages is the organisation that has the know-how and the infrastructure to provide long-term care in a family-based environment for orphaned and abandoned children and also - as a new departure - for underage mothers with their babies. The project has an initial term of two to three years.
As a first step, an emergency admission centre has been established and - in co-operation with other NGOs, the local authorities and paramount chiefs - registration and admission procedures initiated for the first fifty children, who were initially accommodated in a facility run by World Vision. At the same time work has begun in Gulu on repairing existing houses and building new low-budget houses so as to be able to open a temporary SOS Children's Village in November for 100 - 150 children who cannot be reunited with their families. There will also be a small clinic.
The children include former child soldiers whose parents were killed or whose families refuse to take them back and also young mothers who - not yet sixteen themselves - were abducted and sexually abused, became pregnant and still had to play an active part in the fighting. They also include a group of children of unknown parentage who were born in captivity and then simply abandoned, as well as orphans who lost their parents to AIDS or Ebola.
The staff of the SOS Children's Village emergency aid project have a difficult task ahead of them. Above all, social reintegration of the children - traumatised through multiple abuse, completely uprooted from their home environment, and at the same time stigmatised by their past - is likely to be a long and difficult process.
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Contact: Doris Kirchebner (+43/512/3310-5171)