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Uganda7 min read


The tragic history of Uganda’s child soldiers

Chasey Pittsley
Jul 08, 2023


“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” — Colossians 3:21 (NIV)

The year is 2001. A normal day begins in a small village in Uganda. As the sun rises, mothers usher their children out into the cool morning air. Their uniforms are washed, and their backpacks are filled with textbooks and worksheets.

Despite the early hour, the children already talk and laugh amongst themselves as they pick their way along the path to school. They discuss if they’ve studied for the upcoming test, what they will do at recess, and their plans after school.

Then, out of nowhere, tall men in military uniforms emerge from the tall grass around them. Before the children even have a chance to cry out, the soldiers grab them and disappear back into the foliage.

They never make it to school.

A deadly civil war

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Children were kidnapped from homes, schools, and pathways without a trace

Beginning in 1988, thousands of child abductions took place in northern Uganda. Children left for school and never returned. Students were snatched from their classrooms. Parents returned home to find their sons and daughters gone.

As part of an effort to secure more manpower, children were kidnapped and forcibly recruited as soldiers for the Lord’s Resistance Army, also known as the LRA. The group’s leader, Joseph Kony, started a rebellion against the Ugandan government in 1988 to defend the rights of northern Uganda’s tribal people.

Soon, however, the LRA began to use violent and lethal tactics to fight their way through the country. They went from village to village, mutilating and massacring civilians. They raided homes, burned them to the ground, and rarely left survivors.

And when the LRA needed more soldiers, they started kidnapping children — some as young as 9. These young kids were forced to perform the same acts of violence they and their communities had endured — some were even made to kill their own families.

Children who grew up too quickly

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The horrors of war soon became the only reality the children knew

For these children, abduction was only the beginning. Under the LRA, these boys and girls endured abusive treatment, brutal military training, and relentless brainwashing before they were either turned into child soldiers or appointed as wives for the men.

Instead of spending their childhoods attending school, playing, and making friends, they were surrounded by constant, horrific violence.

Girls were forced to bear children. Boys fought on the front lines and participated in violent attacks on innocent civilians. Other children became manual laborers who worked under deplorable conditions. This became the only reality these children knew.

Now in 2023, most child soldiers have graduated into adulthood … but the effects of the war are still felt two decades later.

Struggling to move on

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The trauma of their time in the LRA followed these children into adulthood

When the Ugandan government and the LRA finally made a peace agreement in 2005, the kidnapped children had already spent most of their lives as soldiers, wives, and slaves. Though granted amnesty, they lived with severe PTSD and debilitating depression.

Their childhoods had been stolen from them.

And to make matters worse, when they returned to their home villages, their former neighbors and friends shunned them because they had committed acts of violence in the name of the LRA. Many families in these communities had endured loss at the hands of these attacks.

Even though it’s been almost 20 years since the LRA moved out of Uganda, adults who served as child soldiers still harbor deep physical and psychological scars from their experiences. Their own children often share a similar trauma.

Cindy, one of World Help’s partners in Uganda, has firsthand experience working with these children. Their stories are heartbreaking, and she founded Village of Hope in 2007 to serve them and share the love of God.

“Everywhere I would look would be little orphans, little children. I said, ‘Where’s their parents?’ They said they don’t have any parents … they were killed in the war,” Cindy said.

Even though the war is long over, northern Uganda continues to grapple with the consequences. Countless children lost their parents in LRA attacks and now live as orphans. Families still reside in IDP camps, struggling to survive with little food and water. Former child soldiers are still trying to move forward despite their past experiences.

“The only thing that can bring transformation is Jesus,” Cindy shared. “He is the only one who can heal their hearts.”

How you can help

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You can send help and hope to people in Uganda still affected by the war

Many people in Uganda are still struggling to move on from these brutal years of war, but you can give them help and hope.

Please pray for everyone affected by the civil war in Uganda. Pray that orphaned children would find loving families. Pray that former child soldiers and their children would find hope in Christ and healing from the horrors they endured. Pray for children and families still living in IDP camps who are fighting to survive. And pray for our partners in Uganda working to help broken people and families impacted by this tragedy.

You can also make a difference by investing in the life of a child living in Uganda and giving them hope for the future. Click here to learn more about you can transform a life through child sponsorship.

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