Alone and Frightened: A Summary of our Report

alone headerIn the discussions about disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of children used as soldiers in the conflict in Northern Uganda, the voices and perspectives of former child soldiers themselves have too often and too long been ignored.

To restore these voices to the discussion and to improve the services for former combatants, the Goldin Institute and local partners trained a group of former child soldiers in "Community Based Oral Testimony" as a tool for gathering these stories and perspectives. Through this project, former child soldiers themselves led the research collection through interviewing over 150 of their peers and together reflecting on common concerns and shared aspirations.

The results of this groundbreaking research are contained in the report, Alone and Frightened. Equipped with this knowledge and the sense of solidarity developed through the research process, the former child soldiers are now at the forefront of convening the National Platform for Child Soldier Reintegration in Uganda as a network for coordinating the work of NGOs, government agencies, religious communities and other partners who are working together to promote reconciliation and reintegration.


[quote]Child Soldier definition: A child soldier is one under the age of 18 and part of a regular or irregular armed force or armed group participation directly indirectly. Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including combat, laying mines, and explosives; scouting, spying, acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training, drill or other preparations; logistics and support functions, pottering, cooking and domestic labor; and sexual slavery or other recruitment for sexual purposes."[/quote]

- UNICEF 2003


Former Child Soldiers Receive Certificates in ESPERE Reconciliation TrainingThis study describes the state of children affected by the brutal war in Northern Uganda pitting the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF). These are stories of Former Child Soldiers (FCS), please use your discretion as these stories are both horrific and heart-rendering.

The study sought to achieve the following objectives:

  • To facilitate a platform for FCS to share their experiences and challenges of abduction and escape from captivity.
  • To establish the community and family perceptions and attitude towards FCS.
  • To identify gaps in the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities/Juba Peace Agreement (CHA) (2006), agenda item V on DDR, the institutional mechanisms and the current state of FCS with regard to DDR.
  • To establish and highlight the locally-generated and FCS-based frameworks for reintegration.
  • The content scope of this research was to document and analyze the experiences and challenges of FCS with regard to their reintegration into families and communities within the CHA broader agenda item V.


A total of 180 primary informants were purposely selected out of 264 interviewed using the principles of participatory feedback and primary respondent-centered ownership of the research. Of respondents, 52% were male, and 48% were female.

Key Findings:

Females seemed more unwilling to respond to the the participation due to fear of being identified, fear of community reprisal or, a manifestation of inadequate or lack of psycho-social support.

    1. The majority of children abducted (58.9%) were 15 years of age and below, a clear indication of loss of childhood including schooling for many, in addition to horrifying traumatic experiences.
    2. Major health issues were identified among FCS including bullet wounds and fragments in the body, septic wounds, fistula, HIV/AIDS and cardiac problems.The physical scars or bullets lodged in their bodies has rendered some of them unable to find spouses or fend for themselves.
    3. Of the 87 females interviewed, 39 returned as child mothers.
    4. While 60% of the abducted children found themselves in the hands of Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) and later reception centers, many (40%) did not receive initial counseling and support. Many experienced constant death threats, spiritual initiation rituals ranging from sitting on dead bodies to having sex with an older person, lasting 1-6 years in captivity. Thus, one can understand the extreme levels of trauma and lack of livelihoods among FCS currently.
    5. Large portions of FCS expressed concerns of psychological suffering and/or trauma as a result of their experiences in captivity, including but not limited to, nightmares, anxiety and fits of anger, as well as alienation, appropriation, dispossession, guilt, loneliness, and poor relation with others (aggression, shouting, commanding, etc.).
    6. Over half found either one or both parents dead. This means a sizable number returned as orphans, with a greater number losing their fathers.

To learn more about the next steps and the multi-sector network promoting reintegration and reconciliation, click here to read about the work of the National Platform for Child Soldier Reintegration and Prevention in Uganda.

The following slideshow includes recent ESPERE workshops featuring our colleagues in Uganda and Kenya. Many of the participants represent the aspirations detailed in the Alone and Frightened Report.

[slide] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_1.jpg"]Co-founder's Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman meet with Everest Okwonga, the Principal at St. Janani Luwum Vocational Training Centre[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_2.jpg"]Co-founder's Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman meet with students at a trade school for former child combatants in Gulu[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_3.jpg"]Co-founder Diane Goldin meets with students in a Gulu classroom during the Institute's June2014 trip to the region to take part on child soldier reintegration efforts[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_4.jpg"]Participants of a workshop conducted by Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa take part in one of the exercises teaching 'forgiveness'[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_5.jpg"] Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa (bottom left) and her group of ESPERE students. Also included is friend and colleague and Associate emeritus Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat (standing 5th from right)[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_6.jpg"]Participants of the ESPERE workshop during a training session[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_7.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa (standing) leads a training session in Gulu[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_9.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus conducts an exercise with participants of the ESPERE workshop in June 2014[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_15.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus (sitting foreground) leads her ESPERE training group[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_28.jpg"]Co-founder Diane Goldin meets with students at the St Janani Vocational School. The School is made up of mostly former child soldiers learning new skills (like carpentry in this classroom) to rejoin civilian life.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_27.jpg"]The workshop attended by former child combatants[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_34.jpg"]Institute co-founder Diane Goldin meets with Ajok Dorah - a psychologist specializing in giving counsel to former child combatants returning to their communities.[/img][/slide]

Uganda Update

Building on Two Years of Partnership Planning:

An update to the National Platform for child soldier prevention and re-integration in Uganda

This past June, co-founders of the Goldin Institute, Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman spent two weeks in Africa to coordinate and take part in the official launch of the National Platform for Child Soldier Reintegration and Prevention - Uganda Chapter. The event was the culmination of over two years of partnering with the Institute's Global Associate based in Kenya - Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat.

The official report has just been issued (view in entirety here), but we would like to highlight the key findings and developments that came out of the event.

Background on the Issue

The conflict in Northern Uganda, which claimed thousands of lives and displaced over 400,000 people over the past thirty years, has recently entered a period of relative calm. Since 2006, the Lord's Resistance Army and the Allied Democratic Forces have been largely dismantled and have moved outside the borders of Uganda. With the displaced - especially young people who had been recruited into the armed militia groups - moving back to their homes and villages, there is a great need to rebuild democratic governance structures and the livelihoods of returnees in ways that map to and reconstruct local realities.

In Uganda, both the rebels and the government have used children in their war actions before and after 1986. There are a number of statutory instruments that outlaw the use of children in combat action or under age employment such as the Constitution, the children's statute in addition to the various international conventions on children. However, these legal instruments were not enough to prevent the use of child soldiers or to ensure that children are reintegrated. Through research and shared planning, the National Platform findings have identified areas where a broad range of civic and grassroots leaders can make a concrete improvement.

History of the project to date

The Uganda Platform is based on the Goldin Institute's successful launch of a similar National Level program in Colombia in 2007. Like the proven Colombian model, a key feature of the this platform has been unifying reintegration efforts (in this case amongst Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC) to directly serve former combatants, not only reintegrating those children who have escaped fighting, but also to seek an end to the use of child soldiers.

Building on what was learned in Colombia and other Institute initiatives, central to the Uganda National Platform was involving former child combatants directly by providing them a voice in the proceedings. Specifically, 12 former child soldiers lead the oral testimony gathering. This experiential approach broke down many of the hierarchical barriers and produced a more accurate understanding of the lived experiences and aspirations of former combatants.

Goals and objectives of the Platform

The overall goals of the National Platform are to: 1) reintegrate former child soldiers in Uganda and 2) prevent the use of children in armed conflict. The platform will document its processes, successes and challenges in order to assist partners in DRC, Somalia and South Sudan as they build similar National Level Platforms that together will partner in a regional network dedicated to reintegration and prevention.

Eleven specific goals were established and approved by the 100 stakeholders from across Uganda with observers from the DRC, South Sudan, Kenya and the United States:

  • Direct and sustained engagement of former child soldiers in all aspects of the network, from setting priorities, service in related projects and evaluation.
  • Research and documentation of child soldier related issues.
  • Advocacy for public policies that will benefit former combatants.
  • Strengthening of institutional mechanisms to promote access to education, healthcare, nutrition, shelter and employment for ex-child soldiers and children impacted by the violence.
  • Build Capacity for member organizations of the national platform to address issues of child soldiers.
  • Coordinate the disparate programs for demobilization, prevention and reintegration of child soldiers to improve efficiency and reach.
  • Monitor with relevant government ministries and departments to keep watch over the implementation of policies that impact ex-child soldiers.
  • Evaluate impact of resources and programs targeting ex-child soldiers in Uganda.
  • Distribute information and reports from members of the national platform.
  • Assist in sharing information, tools and insights in building the regional platform.
  • Mobilize resources for the running of the platform activities.

[slide] [img path="images/at_the_banner_diane_and_TR.jpg"]Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman meet with members of the former child soldier delegation[/img] [img path="images/TR_and_two_delegates.jpg"]Executive Director Travis Rejman meets with delegates to the National Platform[/img] [img path="images/diane_and_dorcas_and_uniden.jpg"]Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat (center) and Diane Goldin with Platform delegate[/slide]