Uganda is twice the size of Pennsylvania and is in East Africa. It is bordered on the west by Congo, on the north by the Sudan, on the east by Kenya, and on the south by Tanzania and Rwanda. The country, which lies across the equator, is divided into three main areas-swampy lowlands, a fertile plateau with wooded hills, and a desert region. Lake Victoria forms part of the southern border.
In an effort to bring attention to the plight of children in northern Uganda, UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken traveled to the conflict affected region to witness the phenomenon of “night commuters,” children who trek from the countryside into slightly more secure towns and UNICEF supported shelters every night to avoid being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The conflict in northern Uganda has displaced approximately 1.4 million people — 80 per cent of them children and women — as the rebel (LRA) seeks to overthrow the Ugandan government. Each evening, the threat of LRA attacks and abductions drives over 40,000 child “night commuters” to leave their homes. An estimated 12,000 children have been abducted by the LRA in the conflict-affected districts since June 2002, to be forcibly recruited as child combatants and sex slaves.
Clay interacted with children who were abducted by LTA rebels and then visited the Pabbo IDP camp in Gulu on May 25.
“Northern Uganda is one of the most dangerous places in the world for children,” said Clay. “Children are being forced to commit appalling acts of violence. Children are being killed and raped. It was all too clear that those living in the conflict-affected districts of Uganda deserve much more. The global community must act now with utmost urgency to put an end to these atrocities. No progress will be made until there is peace throughout the country.”
Comparing the situation in northern Uganda to the tsunami disaster that hit Asia at the end of last year, Aiken said the Ugandan situation is worse because of the continuous war. In the case of tsunami, he said, reconstruction is already underway.
On his role as UNICEF ambassador, Clay said, “Everyone deserves the best start in life, which is what UNICEF is working to provide the world’s most vulnerable children with. Education is essential to a child’s development. I hope that as an ambassador, I can encourage people to join UNICEF’s mission to make education a reality for children throughout the world.”
The following is a video of Clay’s trip to Uganda.