Appeal for Uganda's abducted children

8 December 2000

The winner of this year's Anti-Slavery International award has appealed for the governments of Uganda and Sudan to take concrete steps to end child slavery in northern Uganda.

The commanders fight over the BBC radio but the children fight on the ground and die

George Omona

More than 14,000 children are estimated to have been abducted by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) since 1986, mostly from Kitgum and Gulu districts, and taken to southern Sudan to fight or serve as sex slaves.

It is estimated nearly 90% of LRA fighters are enslaved children - nearly 6,000 are still missing and it is not known whether they are dead or alive.

George Omona, project co-ordinator of Gulu Support the Children Organisation (Gusco) which rehabilitates escaped child slaves, said there were few practical results from diplomatic initiatives between the two countries.

Broken promises

Escaped child slave

This boy was shot before he escaped the LRA and his leg required amputation

In December 1999 the Ugandan and Sudanese authorities undertook to halt support for rebel groups within their borders and return abducted children, and the Ugandan Government offered an amnesty to LRA fighters.

But the announcements were followed by renewed LRA attacks across the border from Sudan into northern Uganda.

Accepting his award in London Mr Omona said he had asked the children at the Gusco rehabilitation centre what message they would like him to give and they appealed for dialogue to end child suffering.

He appealed for LRA commanders to accept the government amnesty and reassured them that none of the fighters who had returned to Uganda were being persecuted and they need have no fear.

He also appealed for the Ugandan Government to give up its military response to the LRA for dialogue.

Mr Omona said Ugandan soldiers were literally fighting - and killing - children.


Gusco has worked to rehabilitate nearly 2,500 children who have escaped from the LRA.

Escaped boy reunited with his family

Gusco reunites escaped children with their families

They are brought to a centre in Gulu where workers try to create a bridge from the violence and horror of the children's past to reintegration into their communities.

One of the therapeutic methods employed is to get children to draw pictures of both their past, their present in the rehabilitation centre, and what they would like for their future.

(Click here to see children's pictures)

Gusco also works with the wider community to foster acceptance of returned children who have sometimes been forced to kill or torture members of their own families.

Born to slavery

Many of the children who return are deeply traumatised, but Mr Omona says very few have been unable eventually to return to the community.

Severely traumatised escaped child slave

Mental and physical traumas are treated together

However he says because of the sexual enslavement of abducted girls a second generation of children is being born in captivity with no experience of freedom.

Many have been orphaned due to the high prevalence of HIV infection amongst the LRA commanders and the girls they rape.

These children will never have known life outside the brutality of the LRA camps and if they are ever released their rehabilitation will be a new challenge.

All photographs courtesy of Gideon van Aartsen, Terre des Hommes Netherlands.