Conflict in northern Uganda has displaced approximately 1.4 million people, 80% of them children and women, as the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) seeks to overthrow the Ugandan government.
UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken traveled to the conflict region of northern Uganda 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 LRA.
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 serve as child combatants and sex slaves.
“Northern Uganda is one of the most dangerous places in the world for children,” said Aiken, American Idol’s most famous and successful runner-up. “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.”
Aiken toured UNICEF supported projects in northern Uganda, including internally displaced peoples’ (IDP) camps, night commuter shelters and reception centers for formerly abducted children in Kitgum, Gulu and Katakwi districts. There are currently more than 200 IDP camps scattered across the eight conflict-affected districts.
“In the UNICEF supported reception centers for formerly abducted children, I witnessed children receiving psycho-social counseling,” said Aiken. “These children spend anywhere between a few days to several months in these centers.” UNICEF and its partners are also providing services in the areas of health and nutrition, water and sanitation, education, child protection and emergency shelter.
In March, Aiken went on his first UNICEF field trip, where he visited primary school students and camps for the internally displaced survivors in the tsunami ravaged province of Aceh, Indonesia.
By now it’s clear that Clay isn’t just about Clay