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Uganda: Innocence Stolen

A paramilitary group in Uganda is abducting younger children to fill its ranks. Those who manage to escape are plagued with haunting memories.
2000This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

When 13-year-old Grace Acayo heard footsteps outside her home one night in October 1995, she thought her mother was coming to check on her homework. Instead, four Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) soldiers broke down the door. Acayo was paralyzed with fear as the armed men rushed in. "We couldn't hide. They ordered us to get up, but I was shocked and couldn't," she says. They struck the young girl and pushed her out into the darkness. The cultic paramilitary group abducted 30 adults and children that night from Acayo's village in Kitgum District in northern Uganda. Acayo's last glimpse of home was seeing her uncle murdered. "I heard my mother crying, because they were beating her, and we were all crying. I saw one [rebel] hacking my uncle's head, and my mother was unconscious when we left."

Children on the Front Lines

Since 1994 the Sudan-backed LRA has abducted more than 12,600 children in its guerrilla war against Uganda's government. While half of those children are now free, more than 6,000 remain unaccounted for, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Four thousand are presumed dead, and reports from returning abductees lead officials to believe 2,000 children remain with the LRA. Joseph Kony, the group's leader, combines animism, Christianity, and Islam to support his guerrilla war. Former soldiers say he promises protection for soldiers through witchcraft rituals. He threatens soldiers, saying that a deserter's family will be hunted and killed. And abductions are rationalized as a form of salvation for the abductee. Children are favorite targets of rebels because they are easy to abduct and intimidate. Children do not demand payment and they are less likely than adults to flee.LRA commanders in Sudan train ...

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