News / Africa

    Child Soldiers – The Life After

    The leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, answers journalists' questions following a meeting with UN officials in southern Sudan, Nov 2006 (file photo)
    The leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, answers journalists' questions following a meeting with UN officials in southern Sudan, Nov 2006 (file photo)
    Joe DeCapua

    With U.S. forces now helping in the hunt for LRA rebels in Central Africa, closure may be at hand for thousands of former child soldiers. One estimate says the LRA abducted more than 20,000 children in Northern Uganda over 20 years and made them slaves and killers.

    For Fred Bemak news of U.S. assistance in tracking down the Lord’s Resistance Army is very welcome indeed.

    “The reaction is pretty clear and can be summed up in one word – finally!”

    Bemak is a professor of education and human development at George Mason University in Virginia. He’s also a professional counselor, who works closely with the NGO Invisible Children.

    “It’s so important that we are taking care of these issues of the LRA. This is an organization that has been committing atrocities for decades and not been stopped. I think it’s phenomenal that we are supporting this,” he said.

    In the middle of the night

    It’s believed that military offensives against the Lord’s Resistance Army has caused it to break up into about a dozen or so small groups. Northern Uganda is now rebuilding after years of conflict. However, those small groups continue to attack and kill civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

    The LRA has repeatedly used children to do its dirty work. Professor Bemak has met many of these kids after they escaped or were rescued. He gives an example of how the horror usually begins for a child.

    “One night suddenly at the door of his mud hut are three or four soldiers, who start yelling at people, who may kill one or two people in the hut to create fear and obedience. Who start to pull up the 12 year old or 7 year old or 8 year old, physically by the arm. Who force them out and they march them off to the bush,” he said.

    During that march to the LRA camp, the children usually see someone killed.

    “Just slaughtered or killed or maimed. Left to die. And that’s a very quick lesson very early on – you better shape up (be obedient) or this could be you,” he said.

    Being obedient can mean taking part in brutal killings - sometimes being forced to remove bodily organs.

    “Those rituals begin to desensitize the very impressionable and afraid youth to what it’s like to be in the Lord’s Resistance Army. That’s one piece of it. The second is they begin to build up a culture where the youth say this is what the norm is. This is what everybody does. When they come out they get hit with a tremendous shock, saying, my God, what did I do?”

    That’s where Bemak and the counselors he trains come in. It’s their job to help the kids deal with the guilt, shame, confusion and helplessness. Without help, the former child soldiers are unable to re-enter society. They have trouble holding jobs or having relationships.

    Recovery tours

    He said the counseling concentrates on dealing with what happened to them. Things they’ve refused to talk about for years. Bemak says one very successful method is what he calls “recovery tours.” He and a psycho-services expert from Invisible Children actually take the children back to the site where they were abducted.

    “One on each side, we walk them through that site and they talk about every single experience that they had. We ask them what happened here. Where were you lying? Were you facing to the wall? Were you facing to the door when they came in? Where was your grandmother? And they talk us through that whole experience. Then we walk them, side by side, as they’re trembling, as they’re talking about it, walk them through the bush and the pathway that they took,” he said.

    Bemak said every child who’s taken the recovery tour found it extremely healing.  And he does believe they can be healed, but it may take a long time. Each child is different.

    “I think it’s critical that these youth are healed because the long term cost to our society and our community is significant,” he said.

    Professor Bemak said if LRA leader Joseph Kony is captured or meets the same fate as Moammar Gadhafi it will help bring closure to the former child soldiers.

    The International Rescue Committee estimates there are 300,000 boys and girls around the world currently trained as soldiers or used as porters, spies or sex slaves.

    You May Like

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora