Think back to your childhood. What are your fondest memories? They’re most likely experiences with your family and friends and you can probably remember how happy you were during those times. Every person should be able to experience this feeling, but not all are able to.
In many countries throughout the world, including South Sudan and Uganda, children are forced onto the frontlines of war and armed conflict. In fact, it is estimated that 250,000 children are being used for military use right now.
That is why we spend today commemorating the hundreds of thousands whose childhood was so unfairly taken from them. We recognise Red Hand Day to raise awareness of the many children at risk, as well as former child soldiers who are struggling to shake what happened to them so many years ago.
IRT works with Organisation for Community Action (OCA) in northern Uganda, where many people were child soldiers for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA forcibly recruited over 10,000 child soldiers since the 1990s. Many were put on the frontlines to protect the adult soldiers, and because of that, many innocent children died. The LRA viewed children as expendable. If they were killed in battle, they would raid schools and villages to get more. Years of this atrocity has left a hole in communities throughout Uganda, and as they continue to rebuild, the horror is still in the back of their mind.
While the conflict in Uganda is over, South Sudanese leaders struggle to end the violence in their young country. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was founded as a guerrilla movement in 1983, but became the official army of the Republic of South Sudan once it gained independence in 2011. In 2004, there were up to 5,000 child soldiers in the SPLA. The group was pressured to demobilise the child soldiers, and they claimed they did, however according to this Human Rights Watch report, there are still child soldiers fighting for the SPLA today.
Children deserve a bright future. If a child is not killed in combat, their lives will be derailed from the psychological and physical harm they experience. Most child soldiers miss out on an education, and are unfit for many jobs because they never had the chance to develop any sort of valuable skills. There are many organisations that provide rehabilitation for former child soldiers, but the complete eradication of military use of children needs to occur.
IRT stays committed to assisting OCA in rebuilding the lives of those affected by armed conflict, especially former child soldiers and their families.