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Uganda: Insecurity, poverty leaves northern children vulnerable to military recruitment- UNICEF

IRIN News Centre

KAMPALA, 18 August 2004.

Insecurity and widespread poverty caused by the 18-year warfare pitting government forces against insurgents in northern Uganda has made desperate children vulnerable to recruitment as rebel fighters, the United Nations children's Fund (UNICEF) said.

"The poverty and insecurity in northern Uganda could make children vulnerable to recruitment into the armed forces," UNICEF's protection officer in Gulu, Rebecca Symington, told IRIN by telephone from the northern town.

Many of the children, she added, saw fighting as a form of employment and saw the carrying of arms as the only way to protect themselves and others.

"We have discussed with the UPDF [Ugandan army] but we found out that the children are reluctant to give up the trade to the extent of refusing to give their actual age when we visit," Symington added. She said the children were in need of money since some of them had dropped out of school because they could not raise school fees.

According to UNICEF's July humanitarian situation report for northern Uganda "the armed conflict between the UPDF and the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army), and the attendant violence, displacement and poverty continue to acutely strain the humanitarian situation of children and women in northern and northeastern Uganda."

"The rights of children to access basic health services, water, primary education, protection and shelter remain unfulfilled," it added.

UNICEF said that despite LRA attacks against civilians becoming less frequent in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader districts, an increase in LRA desertions and general sentiment that the insurgency may have been weakened, raids by small bands rebels had continued in camps for internally displaced persons, villages and along roads.

It said that the number of the displaced people was 1.6 million, 80 percent of them women and children.

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