“Save Darfur” a sign reads. “Genocide in the Sudan” reads another. The world today is justly outraged at the atrocities taking place in that area of Africa. Campaigns raise money to help stop the fighting in the Darfur area of Sudan. Actors and musicians give their time and celebrity to bring awareness of the conflict to the world. The Sudan campaigns are admirable, and the world hopes and prays that peace will come to Sudan.
Unfortunately, in the shadow of the Darfur genocide lies a tragedy that remains mostly unnoticed by the rest of the world. In northern Uganda and southern Sudan, around 66,000 children, primarily of the Acholi tribe, have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since its creation by Joseph Kony, a pseudo-Christian spiritualist, in 1987. These children are violently taken from their homes, and at least 14 percent are forced to attack family or friends in order to separate them from society, to keep them captive in mental and physical slavery. They are then beaten and brainwashed into becoming killers and kidnappers, or forced to serve their captors as slaves and pack animals. Boys become soldiers and porters. Girls are soldiers as well, but often also become sex slaves or “marry” the LRA’s commanders. According to the Survey of War Affected Youth, though only about 15 percent of abductees are forced to kill in battle, 20 percent are forced to kill a stranger, and 58 percent are forced to steal or destroy property. Around 63 percent of abductees receive severe beatings and 78 percent witness a killing.
Fearing the LRA’s attacks, the government of Uganda placed over 1.6 million people in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). These people were forced to flee their homes, their farms and businesses, in order to protect themselves and their children from the attacks of the LRA. Unfortunately, they are not always protected, even in the camps. In February 2004, the LRA killed at least 337 people in the Barlonyo camp in the Lira district, and there have been a number of other attacks on different camps where people have been killed, maimed, and kidnapped. The LRA is also not the only danger to the IDP camps. Women and girls are vulnerable to sexual assault and rape by men in the camp, and even by the soldiers of the Uganda People’s Defense Force, men assigned by the government to protect them. Often, to save themselves from attacks by the LRA, children will walk to larger towns to stay the night in shelters run by churches and other organizations. These “night commuters” remain vulnerable to attack and sexual assault, and yet they have almost no other choice if they want to stay safe. They commute to save their lives and their futures, to live with hope when the world does not seem to care and their future seems bleak.
According to a 2005 survey by Alertnet, the violence in Uganda is the “second most under-publicized emergency of [the] present day.” Still, there are people who do hear the cries from Uganda and work to bring peace and safety to the area. Recently the Ugandan government and leaders in the LRA began peace talks in the city of Juba, mediated by the Vice-President of southern Sudan, which has led to the return home of several thousand IDPs. The process is slow, though, and it remains to be seen if any future settlement will be able to be implemented, or if the talks will even do any good. Despite the talks, Ugandans still live in fear, and children remain in the LRA, beaten and terrorized.
While the government looks for a solution to the military problems of Uganda, others look to help the Ugandan people and the children affected by the violence. The Ugandan population is about 84 percent Christian, and the churches of Uganda actively work with Christian relief organizations to aid whomever they can reach with limited resources. Pastor Sam Childers is one of these good people with a heart for these children. Instead of waiting for child soldiers to be rescued by the government, he has gone out and rescued over 500 Ugandan and Sudanese children from the LRA himself. He then returns the children to their parents, and protects the orphans in Children’s Village, an orphanage that is protected by chain-link fences and armed guards. Other groups try and help former child soldier reintegrate into society, a hard task for children who have grown up killing and surrounded by death. Groups have been organized to help the IDPs and the night commuters, giving them aid in their time of need.
As Isaiah 59:15-16 says, “Then the Lord saw it and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; and His own righteousness, it sustained him.” Not only has God helped children escape, sometimes miraculously from the LRA, His hand reaches through these relief organization and churches to save His children from slavery and fear. Just as God cares for the people of Uganda, so His church around the world should reach out their hands in comfort and help. In the wake of all the terrible violence and suffering in the world, we cannot let the people of Uganda remain forgotten in the shadows.
Caitlin DeMarco is an intern in the Ronald Reagan Memorial Internship Program at Concerned Women for America. She is assigned to the Beverly LaHaye Institute.
McDonnell, Faith J.H. and Grace Akallo. “Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children.” http://www.sway-uganda.org/SWAY.RBrief.1.pdf http://www.up.ligi.ubc.ca/UpdateNU2004.pdf http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/inside.php?sid=6012 http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportId=73248