Children wounded in war missing out on treatment

Hundreds of children injured during years of conflict in northern Uganda have been unable to obtain the specialist treatment they need for lack of funds or suitable facilities, according to a local advocacy group.

“We have registered up to 1,500 cases that require major or minor plastic surgery, but only 300 have been enlisted to have it because of the limited resources," Hellen Elengat Acham, chairwoman of the Northern Uganda Transitional Justice Working Group, said.

She cited the case of Justin Obonyo, 20, who was abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) from Lira, northern Uganda, in 2003, trained as a child soldier in Southern Sudan and deployed to fight in northern Uganda in February 2004. Ambushed by the Ugandan army, Obonyo was shot in the head.

Obonyo, speaking to IRIN in Lira on 22 June, said: “I was heading back home in my group of about 20 other soldiers but as we approached the border, we were bombarded from all sides. I suddenly saw darkness. I opened my eyes days later and I found myself lying on a bed and in pain. I realized I was in a hospital. A nurse told me that soldiers had brought me there."

Six years later, he suffers headaches whenever he tries to do physical work. The bullet remains lodged in his head. “At first the doctors wanted to operate, but closer examination of the X-rays showed it was too dangerous and required facilities that were not [available] in Uganda," Acham told IRIN. "He has since been recommended for treatment in South Africa, Europe or India, but this requires up to 50 million shillings [US$25,000], which has remained elusive to the young man."

The pain has forced Obonyo to abandon his studies. "I can only complete studies if I get a good Samaritan who will pay for my treatment and I am treated,” he told IRIN.

According to Acham, it was hard to imagine that a person with such an injury could survive. “The army commanders could not believe it either but because he was still breathing when they recovered him three days after the incident, they just took him to hospital,” she said.

Psycho-social support

Obonyo now lives with his mother, three brothers and two sisters. Acham said ex-abductees such as Obonyo needed psycho-social support because some still suffer hallucinations that could make them a danger to the society into which they are being reintegrated.

"One youth told me that whenever he sees a person walking, he sees blood. He said that ‘if I killed my mother, then it is easy to kill a person’ and this underlines the need for these services,” she added.

Recently, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflicts, Radhika Coomaraswamy, echoed these concerns during a visit to the region.

“Developmental aid is mainly structural development and the social aspects are neglected," she told IRIN. "The main challenge in the north now is livelihood training for the real victims of war and government is not pushing forward on livelihood training. Psycho-social issues still need our attention and investment.”

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
An advocacy group says children injured during years of conflict in northern Uganda have been unable to obtain the specialist treatment


The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, terrorized the population in northern Uganda from the late-1990s before spreading out to Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR). In a 24 June report, On the Heels of Kony: The Untold Tragedy Unfolding in the Central African Republic, the advocacy group Enough Project said LRA attacks in the southeastern Haut Mbomou and Mbomou prefectures of CAR had surged in the last three months.

"Kony and other senior LRA leaders were nearly within the grasp of the Ugandan People's Defense Force, or UPDF, last year and could very likely have been apprehended if the United States and other members of the international community had provided more effective assistance in the form of intelligence sharing and key logistical and operational support for military operations.

"There is a genuine risk of the LRA being able to regroup over time in CAR despite some key losses because of that country's general lack of internal security and the relative absence of international attention to the situation in CAR," it stated. "LRA violence is creating a growing humanitarian crisis. Nearly 15,000 people have been internally displaced and more than 5,000 Congolese live in refugee camps in CAR."

On 11 June, the UN warned that the group had also continued to abduct children in DRC. In the past six months, it had killed about 102 civilians every month in Orientale province. Between December and March, a least 302 people – including 125 children – were abducted, while "a significant" number of civilians were mutilated during LRA attacks against villages, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The LRA, which started fighting in the mid-1980s, is known for brutality and for using children as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. Its senior leaders, including Kony, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges.