Focus on Children in Uganda
Emily Schwartz is an intern at the Religious Action Center and a senior at The George Washington University.
Children in Northern Uganda are rarely first and foremost on our minds, but this weekend more than 30,000 people all over the world will be marching to focus our attention. It is time for the fourth annual Gulu Walk, to raise money and awareness in order to promote peace in an area former U.N. Under-Secretary General of Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland called "the
world's most neglected humanitarian crisis" and "one of the biggest
scandals of our generation." According to a recent United Nations report,
at least 30,000 children have been kidnapped in Uganda over the last 22 years.
After their abduction, many are forced into becoming child soldiers and sex
A group of Jewish British students will be marching in Jerusalem. The students who organized the march
are all part of the RSY-Netzer
Reform Judaism youth movement.
They plan on bringing to the march many of their peers from other movements who are also in Israel for the year to learn about Judaism, Zionism and youth leadership. These students are an inspiration. One of the organizers, Deborah Blausten, stressed her Jewish identity as the reason for her activism. She said, "Judaism says you
mustn't stand idly by while your neighbor's blood is being shed. Even more so
now, when we live in a global village? It makes their plight even harder to ignore.
We have no excuse for not knowing."
What's happening to children in Uganda is deplorable. As the British Students in Jerusalem have exemplified, we have an obligation as Jews to do something about it. There are Gulu Walks going on in dozens of cities in the next few days: Find one near you!
In the past few weeks, the US Government has taken steps to speak out against child soldiers. On October 3rd, President
Bush signed a law making it possible to arrest and prosecute leaders of
military forces and armed groups who have recruited child soldiers. This
bill was unanimously passed by Congress. It sends a powerful message to the
world. "The US is saying to the world that using child soldiers is a
serious crime and that it will take action," said Jo Becker, children's
rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. The law makes it a federal crime to
knowingly recruit or use soldiers under the age of 15 and permits the United
States to bring charges under the law against both US citizens and non-citizens
who are in the United States. The law imposes penalties of up to 20 years, or
up to life in prison if death results, and allows the United States to deport
or deny entry to individuals who have knowingly recruited children as soldiers.
According to the Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued
on October 3, Senator Dick Durbin said: "The United States must not be a
safe haven for those who exploit children as soldiers. Period. The use of
children as combatants is one of the most despicable human rights violations in
the world today and affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of boys and
girls who are used as combatants, porters, human mine detectors and sex slaves.
The power to prosecute and punish those who violate the law will send a clear
signal that the US will in no way tolerate this abhorrent practice."