In northern Uganda we’re working in Patongo – a former ‘Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camp’ where whole communities were sent in order to keep them safe from the long conflict between the government troops and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Although the LRA fled over the border many years ago, Patongo remains an impoverished area. Many of the young people there missed out on the chance to get the quality education they deserve, and some were abducted and forced to become child soldiers or their ‘wives’ during the conflict.
There’s not much in the way of social services in the district. Although there are child protection laws, they are badly understood and rarely implemented properly or fairly. This means that when children do come into ‘conflict with the law’ (often meaning that they’re arrested for petty crimes like theft) they are treated very harshly.
They are often detained in adult prisons, and held there for a long time before being brought before the courts or magistrates. The prisons are an extremely dangerous place for children to be. They are dirty and the quality of the food and facilities is very poor. Sexual abuse and violence are prevalent and leave the children in an extremely vulnerable position. It’s an extremely harsh price to pay for what was often a minor crime or misdemeanour. The system doesn’t stop to question why the child behaved that way in the first place and what their family situation is like, if they even have one.
Many of the young ‘offenders’ are illiterate and unskilled. Some have experienced very traumatic events, like being forced to become child soldiers. Most live in poverty. Life has been pretty unforgiving so far and it has taught them little else other than that if they don’t help themselves, then no one else will.
Our ‘Right2Change’ project is helping to build the juvenile justice system in Patongo so that it aspires to the best international standards, like adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). One of the main aims is to divert children out of prison and into more suitable rehabilitation methods like cautions or community service coupled with proper support from trained social workers.
What we’re doing
Through our partner organisation Passion4Community:
- We’re helping to train everyone involved in the juvenile justice system in Patongo. That includes magistrates, police officers, social workers, probation officers and local community representatives. We’re helping to raise their professional standards, and to make sure every child is assigned a social worker.
- We’re helping to provide free legal aid for young people. This is the only project of its kind in northern Uganda, and is supported by the Huddersfield Law Society. It provides children with the professional legal advice and representation that they’d never be able to afford otherwise. Not only for perpetrators of crimes, but also the victims of them too. This allows girls who have been raped for example, to get justice in very patriarchal communities where their voices are usually ignored.
- We’re providing education and vocational training for 1200 young people. By giving them the skills and tools to support themselves, and something positive to pour their energy into, we can help steer them down the right path in life. Read Nekomia’s story as an example.
- We’re providing counselling and support for young people who may be traumatised or depressed by their harsh childhoods. We’re also training the young people to provide peer support to each other so they don’t feel so isolated.
This project is funded by Comic Relief