Uganda: Child "Night Commuters"

November 18, 2005

Uganda: Child "Night Commuters"

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Child "Night Commuters"

"We come to the shelter because I fear being abducted again. I was eight years old then. I do not want my brothers and sisters to be abducted as I was. We walk fast in the night to be here."

Girl aged 14, walks a kilometre, along with her four siblings, to the safety of a shelter in Lacor, five kilometres out of Gulu Town.

In northern Uganda an estimated 30,000 child "night commuters" flee their homes at night and go to urban areas and to the centre of larger camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). The "night commuting" phenomenon started in 2003. A main reason for this movement is to escape attacks and the risk of abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and a general climate of insecurity. Most of the children commute without the protection of adult family members and "face the threat of physical abuse, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, including rape." (1) "Night commuting" is symptomatic of the broader issues relating to the protection of civilians in northern Uganda and illustrates how these can impact on family and community life.

After almost two decades of conflict in northern Uganda, there are still reports of continuing violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, including killings, mutilations, torture, abductions, rape and sexual violence. The human rights of children are violated on a daily basis.

Since 1986, northern Uganda has been shaken by insurgencies and Joseph Kony’s armed group, the LRA, has operated in the area since around 1987. The LRA has targeted the civilian population. His group has abducted civilians, burnt villages, attacked schools and hospitals and ambushed vehicles across northern Uganda. The LRA has mutilated and maimed civilians, cutting off lips, ears and noses and chopping off hands.

Children have suffered disproportionately in this conflict. As many as 25,000 children have been abducted by the LRA since the conflict began, for use as soldiers, sex slaves and porters. 7,500 are girls with 1,000 having conceived children during captivity.(2) An unknown number have been killed.

Walking several kilometres each way, many children sleep at specially established centres in towns and their outskirts. These centres, run by non-governmental organizations, provide a safe and clean place to sleep, clean water and sanitation, basic health care and counselling. Scores of children also sleep at temporary shelters, hospital compounds, verandas and other public places.

The Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (the body of independent experts mandated to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by states parties) on Uganda’s second periodic report were published on 30 September. These observations contain a number of recommendations that relate to "night commuters". In particular, paragraph 70 in the section Children in Armed Conflict and Child Abduction reads: