Practice Relating to Rule 135. Children
Section E. Rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers
In 2007, in its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child under the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, Uganda stated:
58. … [C]hildren rescued from the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] have been handled by a specialized unit within the national armed forces the UPDF [Uganda People’s Defence Forces], called the Child Protection Unit (CPU), before being handed over to the rehabilitation centers run by civil society organizations …
74. … The UPDF and Save the Children has been working together in ensuring that children rescued from the LRA were taken to reception centers, counseled and reintegrated into the community instead of recruitment into the armed forces. …
115. Over the last 18 years the LRA has abducted over 30,000 children. Of this [number], about 25,000 have returned and over 8,000 remain unaccounted for. Those children who returned have become known as formerly abducted children (FAC). In response to their needs for psychosocial rehabilitation and reintegration, many [civil-society] organizations … have provided psychosocial rehabilitation, vocational training and reintegration services to formerly abducted children.
119. The government of Uganda together with the support of the World Bank’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme is supporting the Amnesty Commission to resettle formerly abducted children.
120. … The Amnesty Commission also screens children who have suffered violence as a result of armed conflict and refers them to trauma counseling centers where they undergo rehabilitation before they are reintegrated into their communities.
121. The government has provided an enabling environment that has allowed NGOs to operate freely. Many of the rehabilitation centers for children involved in armed conflict are run by NGOs, with the support of the District Probation and Social Welfare Officers (DPSWOs). Those children who are rescued from the battle front are kept under the care of the child protection unit in the army until they are handed over to the rehabilitation centers. On arrival to the centers, formerly abducted children are offered food, medical care and resettlement kits, consisting of clothes, bedding and washing items. In some cases, during the welcome ceremony for the children all the old clothes and military attires are burned symbolically to mark the end of bush life and the start of a new life in freedom from terror.
122. To encourage quick recovery, children are encouraged to talk about their experiences in captivity and express their feelings through drawings, drama and music. Their psychological process works on their mind sets to make them realize that they are still children and they can still reclaim their childhood and lives of dignity. They are taught all over again to play, dance and have a good time like other children.
123. Catch-up classes are conducted to prepare children for going home. They are taught to read, write, and given lessons in mathematics, health education, debates and news analysis as well as vocational skills.
125. The Child Protection Unit (CPU) in the UPDF is responsible for receiving children rescued from LRA and other forces. It is also charged with the responsibility of ensuring that these children are not abused or further traumatized by irresponsible journalism. Where it is necessary that their photos appear in the press for the sake of evidence, children’[s] faces are blurred to prevent identification.
In 2008, in its written reply to the Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning Uganda’s initial report under the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, Uganda stated:
24. The process of disarmament, demobilization and re-integration is done by the Amnesty Commission. However, the majority of children leaving the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] do so either by escaping or by being captured [by] government forces. Under the military procedures … [of] the UPDF [Uganda People’s Defence Force] child protection units … [they are] released into the custody of civilian organization[s] within 48 hours. …
25. While in the custody of civilian organizations, children receive the following services:
- Medical assistance
- Family tracing and resettlement
- Recreational activities
- Counseling and psychosocial support
- Educational programmes: these include life skill[s] as well as basic training skills to resettle children back into normal life.
At the Centers, social workers hold counseling sessions with the children to help them heal the traumas experienced during captivity. They also carry out home visits to areas where children came from to prepare the homes and the communities for the resettlement of their children.
28. Through the government programme of Peace Recovery and Development Program (PRDP), the strategy for demobilization and reintegration focuses on provision of resettlement packages to all ex-combatants, facilitating reunion with their families and providing opportunities to access existing service providers. LRA have fair access to this program, however, there being no cases of demobilized children from LDU [paramilitary local defence units], none has had access.
31. Under the African Union Commission Project, about 400 LRA ex-child soldiers have been provided with skills training in tailoring, bicycle repair, brick laying and concrete practice, carpentry and joinery. Provision of sanitary materials, maternity kits, supplementary foods for children have also been provided to child mothers in the war affected areas in Kitgum District.