Uganda: Ugandan Army allows former child soldiers into its ranks

According to a report of the UN's IRIN news network, the Ugandan Army is allowing former child soldiers from the rebel Lords' Resitance Army (LRA) into its ranks because it is a better option for them than remaining with the insurgents. "If somebody at 17 years comes from the LRA and takes the choice that he wants to be in the army, would you send him away so that he returns to the rebel ranks or - you help him become productive?" Shaban Bantariza, army spokesman, told IRIN.

Uganda is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bars parties from recruiting children under the age of 18 to be soldiers. According to the spokesman, the army had so far incorporated 800 former rebels, some of whom were slightly underage. They made up a new brigade in the UPDF, one of those charged with defeating the LRA.

Children's rights groups, such as the London-based, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, have long identified the Ugandan military as a recruiter of underage fighters.

"The government was reported to recruit children into the regular armed forces and into local defence units deployed inside Uganda and also in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan," the coalition said in its 2004 report.

Source: Integrated Regional Information Network, 17 February 2005