Children at War
UNICEF have reported that many former child soldier’s (children rescued from the Lord’s Resistance Army) (LRA) are now being used by the Ugandan National Army. UNICEF estimates that some 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA over the past 19 years and as many as 12,000 have been abducted since 2002.
Uganda has dismissed the allegations made by the BBC that the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UDPF) is using child soldiers. Fr Carlos Rodriguez an Italian priest published an article in Uganda claiming that he interviewed "15 gun-totting soldiers at Palango Detach in Pader district and all of them, recruited a year ago, said they were between 15 and 17 years….."My conclusion from this brief survey, is that in Uganda, there are indeed child soldiers," wrote Fr Carlos.
The commander of the UPDF has threatened to arrest the priest. Uganda has also challenged the UN to prove its allegations stating that they did use child-soldiers but not any more. The report said child-soldiers are used in Burundi, Ivory Coast, Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka as well as Uganda.
In another report, Ugandan army spokesman said the ongoing war with the LRA presented the Ugandan army with a dilemma of what to do with underage fighters that are captured or surrender.
He allowed that ex-LRA rebels under the age of 18 had been incorporated into the army in violation of Kampala’s commitments to treaties protecting the rights of children, but questioned whether turning them away with no other prospects was feasible.
somebody at 17 years comes from the LRA and takes the choice that he
wants to be in the army, would you send him away so that he returns to
the rebel ranks or you help him become productive?" he asked.
"Between two evils, which one do you choose?" Bantariza asked.
"Let him return to the bush which he has known for most of his life or the lesser evil of taking him while slightly underage?"
He added that the UPDF would however not accept children that "appeared" to be under age.
The UPDF and the Ugandan government’s response is completely unacceptable. There is not one single justification for not complying with the "The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict" which raises the minimum age for participation in conflict from 15 to 18 years. The choice is not between returning children away ‘ with no other prospect’s or recruiting them into the army. It is between continuing to abuse and enslave the children or providing proper rehabilitation and care so the children at least have the opportunity to be productive and participate in their respective communities.