Surviving abduction in Uganda's civil conflict

By Kun Li and Victor Chinyama

GULU DISTRICT, Uganda, 19 July 2005 -Janet recalls with horror what happened to her seven years ago. She was travelling with her mother when they were surprised and surrounded by armed militia belonging to Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Janet, only 12 at the time, was abducted.

"I was so scared. I tried to run away, but there were so many of them around us, and there was no way we could escape.

"I had so much fear, and I was afraid that I would get killed. I had heard that they take young children to Sudan and exchange them for guns. So I thought that would happen to me too," continues Janet.

After spending six years in captivity, during which time she was forced into sexual servitude to an LRA commander, a pregnant Janet finally saw an opportunity to escape and did just that.

Reunited with her family, Janet and her daughter now live in Pabbo Camp, Gulu district, northern Uganda. The camp provides shelter for people who have been forced to flee their homes.

One of Janet's brothers was also abducted by the LRA. He did not survive his captivity, dying of cholera.

In northern Uganda, abductions of children by the LRA are widespread. Since 2002, almost 12,000 children have been abducted and forced to become combatants or sex slaves.

Each evening, an estimated 40,000 children in outlying regions, fearful of attacks or abductions by the LRA, leave their homes to seek safety in urban centres. This phenomenon, called 'night commuting', occurs primarily in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader.

As the conflict in northern Uganda continues into its 19th year, nearly 1.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Around 80 per cent of them are children and women.

For Janet, her nightmare is finally over. With a sewing machine provided by a social worker, she can now support her daughter and family as a tailor.

But as long as the conflict continues, girls like Janet who live in affected areas will be faced with the constant threat of abduction and sexual slavery - a stark reminder that although war is initiated by adults, it is children who suffer the most.

About the Study

The Johannesburg meeting is one of the nine regional consultations to be held worldwide with support from UNICEF, in order to gather information for the UN Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children.

The Study, mandated by the UN General Assembly, seeks to bring together knowledge to help understand, reduce and prevent violence against children. In attendance at all the consultations are government representatives, members of non-governmental organizations and leading scholars. In addition, there is a particular emphasis on ensuring that the views and experiences of young people inform the study and its final report, which is to be published in 2006.