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Faith leaders call for children’s protection

Although there is a decreased inter-state conflicts in the East, Central and Horn of Africa, the simmering states of war within countries pose the greatest challenge on children as problems they face in such scenarios tend to take a back seat.
Henry Neondo

An inter-faith council in the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa’s latest report says that children by virtue of being the most vulnerable constitute the majority of millions of people who are affected by conflict and live in terrible conditions as refugees.

The inter-faith council summit held in Nairobi, Kenya from the 27th to 29th March and bringing together faith leaders from countries in the East, Central and Horn of Africa took a hard stance on the war situation in the Northern Uganda, the fluid situation in the DRC and Burundi calling on their national interfaith councils not to be passive on issues that would affect children.

The faith leaders coming from the Christian, Hindu and Islamic faiths in Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Sudan and the DRC acknowledged the devastating effect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the region and came out with a plan of action that calls on religious leaders to support their respective governments in their efforts to find solutions to the scourge.

“We must not only be able to offer intervention options to our governments but must also deal on these issues by advocating a moral lifestyle as prescribed by our respective teachings”, they said.

According to Rev. Dr. Johnson A. Mbillah, General Advisor, Project for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa, “situations in Sudan, Burundi, Northern Uganda, Somalia and the DRC do not provide conducive environments for normal child growth, let alone address issues of rights of the child”.

According to Fred Nyabera, of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and the Churches in the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa, FECCLAHA, “while there is reduced inter-state conflicts, intra-state conflicts however are on increase. But this poses greatest challenge to the faith leaders as issues affecting children within such conflicts tend to be hidden problems amidst fight for supremacy among political combatants”.

Yet, he said, faith communities have potential to make a difference in conflicts given their strategic positions that provide them access both to the grassroots level of society and the top government officials and state apparatus.

The faith leaders expressed concern in the situation in northern Uganda and the fluidity in the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi. Reports from the humanitarian agencies and civil societies indicate increased violation on the rights of children in these countries.

According to SIHA, a network of 18 women groups in the East and Central and Horn of Africa, “the ongoing conflicts hitting the region over the past twenty years or more, have severely affected not only women but children more who are the primary target for all sorts of sexual, physical and psychological violence in armed conflict situations”.

Young girls are repeatedly suffering from rape, sexual and physical assaults. On the other hand there is neither local nor regional mechanism in place beside the Security Council 1325 resolution to protect girls and women in armed conflict situations.

“Forced marriage and abduction are widely performed across the horn of Africa region under the name of culture and traditions. Little girls are experiencing abduction, rape and forced marriage. As the result they suffer deprivation, subordination and isolation for the lifetime”, SIHA says.

According to Medicine Sans Frontiere, MSF-Belgium, although the DRC now celebrates one year of an all-inclusive government and cessation of conflict, situation in the Eastern part of the country is still worrying. MSF says that thanks to some lull in the war and a return to some form of order, there is an increasing number of people coming forward and allege that they have been raped.

Worrying is that among them are young children, with the youngest being a 4-year-old girl who claimed to have been raped by three men. MSF, a medical agency says that medically, consequences of sexual violence include an increased risk of HIV/AIDS and complications in the reproductive health among others.

Recent UNICEF statistics indicate that an estimated 30,000 children in the northern Uganda alone have been abducted since the beginning of the 17 year war that pits the Ugandan army and the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, with most, forcefully conscripted into rebel ranks.

The war has seen close to 900,000 Acholi tribesmen and 450, 000 Langi from the Northern Uganda and a similar number of the Iteso tribe from the East into internally displaced persons camps.

The faith leaders say that the condition of living in the Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps is very pathetic and dehumanising to say the least. According to retired Anglican Bishop Brian Macleord of the Kitgum Diocese, “there is great suffering and need for basic necessities of life: food, shelter, water and sanitation, clothing, medical care, etc”.

The few people, who have not been displaced into the IDPs camps could manage to stay at home; because they live within town area. However Rev Brian says that their own security within the town area is often not guaranteed and they too fear being abducted in the night.

As such, a phenomenon “night commuting” involving young boys and girls leaving their homes and come to town at night for protection against abduction to sleep in town and get home during day time in Gulu and Kitgum has become prominent.

In an attempt to solve the LRA rebellion militarily, the government has increased their operations on the LRA and is using attack helicopters, which is killing more of the abducted children than the LRA rebels themselves.

In retaliation, the rebels attack and harm the innocent civilians, mostly in the IDPs camps and in ambushes along roads.

Similar concerns were expressed to the situation facing children in the Darfur region of the Western Sudan where there is massive displacement of the populace due to the war between government forces and the rebels.

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