June 26, 2009.
In Uganda 1,200 children learned how to use a weapon before they learned how to read. Knowing how to kill protected them from a certain death. And their warlord captors became their only family. In Uganda, a war lasting 21 years, left a horrific legacy, wiping out 40 percent of the population.
Former child soldier (Uganda)
I stayed in captivity for seven months. I was trying to be a soldier, I was giving as a wife to a commando but after seven months I escaped from Sudan , back to Uganda and I get money to back to school. Now I’m doing my master in international development.
Children were often kidnapped in the streets on their way to school, in class or on their way back home. Other times, captors bomb attacked schools and hospitals, and abducted them. This is how they become “child soldiers”.
Some managed to escape from the armed groups. However, their families and friends often rejected them because they had become just like adult guerrilla fighters. They slept on the streets and would walk 10 kilometers daily searching for food or a safe place to stay.
Given the dramatic situation, many are trying to offer assistance. They include governments and especially Catholic groups like the Santa Monica Center, supported by the Community of St. Egidio.
Director, Santa Monica Center (Uganda)
They have to walk, every day. Some are walking more than three kilometres to run away from the own homes, to run away from the own parents to look for security because they will be adapted by the revolts. The situation was over whelming the painful to see hungry children who was sleeping on the floor in the cold sometimes when it’s raining.
Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
On the one hand we are trying to punish those who recluse children, who have the tortures. On the other hand we are trying to build up resources and collected fans to trying up popular programs to rehabilitee an reintegrate these child soldiers backing to their communities.
That’s why in the midst of this horror story there’s still hope. Stories like that of Grace Akallo show that with the right help, these children can be reintegrated into society.
According to Grace, who arrived at the community of Santa Monica in 1996, children especially need to be loved. Safety and education are other important factors. For Grace it is essential to help them reconcile with themselves and encourage society to accept them and give them a second chance.
Former child soldier (Uganda)
Most of the organizations says: because they are a lost generation, just keep them in a work site but these children they will be leaders on the future, and leaders of the society.
Most child soldiers are found in countries such as Uganda, Burundi, Ivory Coast, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Somalia. Worldwide there are more than 300,000 child soldiers. Those who escape often seek that second chance in life that can help them recover and even become lawyers, executives, doctors and architects to contribute to a new society marked by peace.