Activists condemn use of child rebels

National Resistance Army fighters pose in front of a burnt army vehicle on the road between Masaka and Mityana, near Kampala, October 1985. Most of NRA rebels were orphan children whose parents were killed during the Obote regimes killing excesses. PHOTO/AFP

Human rights activists have said rebel groups should desist from recruiting innocent children into rebel activities, an act deemed to deprive the victims of the right to a safe and secure childhood.

“Rebel groups usually use children, including President Museveni when he was in the rebellion. That is why they started a school for Kadogos. Even the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is using children,” Ms Winnie Kiiza, a former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, said, adding, “Some of them are children of the women they either raped, they have abducted, while others are recruited into rebel ranks without being told what they are going to do. We condemn it to the highest level. No child should be subjected to armed rebellion.”

Ms Kiiza was speaking at a stakeholders’ engagement organised by Freedom House and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) at the Méstil Hotel and Residences, Kampala, on Thursday. 

The two non-state actors prop RAJA, a $5m (about Shs18.5 billion) three-year (2020-2023) programme geared at ensuring that citizens know, use and shape the law so as to exercise their civil and political rights in a safe and secure manner. 

Ultimately, the programme aims to ensure members of vulnerable populations, who are victims of human rights abuses, are supported to access justice, protection, and referral services.

“When children grow up into such a system, they become radical actors. We may not blame them because they are victims of their own circumstance. No child should be subjected to armed rebellion or any other form of abuse,” Ms Kiiza said.

The government, through Amnesty Commission, has pardoned 48 former abductees of ADF rebels who were rescued by Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) last December. Five of the 48 former abductees were teenage girls, 12 male children, four juvenile Ugandans, two male adults, two female adults, eight female children and 10 male Congolese children.

Mr Donald Rukare, the Chief of Party, Freedom House, said Chapter 4 of the Uganda Constitution clearly states that no child should be subjected to any form of exploitation, discrimination or forced labour.

“It is essential that all citizens, including children, who are more vulnerable, are protected to enjoy their rights. They need to be protected, nurtured and taken to school,” he said.

Ms Safia Nalule Juuko, the chairperson of Equal Opportunities Commission, urged human rights advocates and defenders to follow domestic laws so as to create an enabling environment.

“Those advocating for the rights of the people were saying they are not given space to implement their mandate, but it is important to follow the laws of the land. They have also noted in their report the importance of complying with the laws that govern their operations,” Ms Nalule said.

Responding to the issue of respecting the laws of Uganda, Mr Rukare said it is important that both state and non-state actors respect and observe all the laws.

“We may not agree with some of the provisions of the NGO Act, Anti-Homosexuality Act, but we must respect the laws,” he said.