Invisible Children: Uganda’s child soldiers

A former child soldier - Northern Uganda (photo: Richard Wainwright)
A former child soldier - Northern Uganda (photo: Richard Wainwright)

Yesterday was the first day of hot weather for many of us in the Northeast United States. Like everyone else in the city, I headed outside to take advantage of the sun (though I was the only person in my group truly happy about the temperature soaring above eighty degrees!).

We stumbled upon a well-organized and peaceful demonstration. Youth in their late teens and early twenties were asking for help, rescue, protection, and representation as “victims” of abduction. As it turns out, they were not seeking any assistance themselves – rather, they were speaking out on behalf of Uganda’s child soldiers. Further, they were asking passersby if they knew  of “anybody” who could help spread the word about the plight of these children. The young man we spoke with had just begun his 21st hour of demonstrating for children on the other side of the planet.

So, if you’ve got a platform, use it – right?:

In Uganda, children are regularly abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (or LRA) and forced to fight in a bloody civil war that has been raging since the 1980s.

Children in Gulu, Northern Uganda (source: Dateline)
Children in Gulu, Northern Uganda (source: Dateline)

Africa and other parts of the world have complicated and disastrous histories involving the abduction and use of children in war. It is estimated that some 10,000 + children have been forced to fight in Uganda, often placed at the front lines of individual battles.

What can you do?

1 – Learn more about child soldiers and how to help them by visiting the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. There, you can learn about the plight of child soldiers in various regions of the world – including, of course, Uganda.

2 – Once you’re informed, click here for ways to take action.

3 – Learn about survivors like Grace Akallo  , the war in Uganda, and the Invisible Children Movement here.

4 – Host an awareness-raising event in your community, on your campus, or at your local civic center. Click here to learn more.

5 – Stay tuned to this newsfeed for the latest, including ways you can help.

6 – Check out Amnesty International’s comprehensive guide to human rights concerns in Uganda.

Jumu’ah dispatch #3 – Friday news updates

As always, Muslimah Media Watch brings us the latest in news from the Muslim world, focusing on women’s issues. Check out this week’s (very thorough) update. Some selections:

* Women have started a group called Sisters Against Violent Extremism. The idea? Courageous dialogue will not just transgress national boundaries – but mobilize women to make positive change. They’re redefining the conversation from Sri Lanka to New York. Stay updated by subscribing to their newsletter.

* If you’re already at the Women Without Borders website, you’ll see a link to Men for Change. They feel that “to be free means being equal in every way” – and they’re taking on issues from honor killings in Pakistan to domestic violence in the United States. Mashallah.

* Iran steps up threats against Shirin Ebadi.

* A community in Uganda has banned female genital cutting. Community leaders are petitioning the country’s government to ban the practice nationwide. They’re not waiting around for the United Nation’s goal to “significantly reduce” female genital cutting by 2015.

* A Muslim woman was brutally attacked on her campus in Chicago. This follows a string of anti-Muslim incidents at the school, including the vandalism of the young woman’s locker with hate speech.

Check out the rest of MMW’s weekly links here.

Pakistani Taliban: wear hijab, or be disfigured

Good news: Congratulations to The Hijab Blog and Hijab Style on their feature story in the Toronto Star. I’m excited about the additional coverage being given to women who are pushing the envelope. In challenging expectations about Muslim women, they’re not only educating the West – but also empowering Muslim women worldwide.

Think their work is all superficial? You’d be wrong. Many women – including a hefty number of Western feminists – refuse to openly condemn human rights abuses that have some sort of “cultural” underpinning. Even if the excuse of culture is obviously rubbish. Many of them don’t have the guts. Imaan of The Hijab Blog does. She is “infuriated” about what I’m about to share with you – and I am too. 

Very, very bad news: Yesterday, the Pakistani unit of the Taliban announced not only that it demands “unislamic” businesses to close (CD shops, cable service providers and internet cafes) – they also warned women that they have 15 days to start wearing hijab – or have their faces maimed with acid. These guys claim to be out to destroy the “traitors of Allah” – while they go against every Qur’anic command to respect human rights.

Disfiguring women’s faces with acid has a long, scary history. See this story about women being burned in Kashmir, this account of acid burning in Pakistan, not to mention Bangladesh, Uganda, Vietnam, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the UK, Turkey, Colombia, Thailand, and the United States.

In some cases, like this one in London, acid is used to destroy DNA evidence after a woman has already been brutalized by rape.

While acid attacks do happen most frequently in Muslim-majority countries, this crisis doesn’t plague Muslims alone. It is vitally important to understand just how widespread these kinds of attacks are.

These acts can do much more than maim someone’s physical appearance. Blindness, loss of speech and even death can result. Many, after losing significant amounts of skin, are unable to survive the infections that ravage their bodies after an acid attack.

UNICEF once reported a story about a baby girl whose father poured acid into her mouth because she was not the boy he wanted his wife to bring into the world. She grew up unable to speak or hear.

Receiving the threat of an acid attack is alarming – but to see the pervasiveness of this horror is petrifying.

Now, an acid-maiming campaign is being launched – openly – against Pakistani women. Unlike when communities have been taken by surprise, the Pakistani Taliban has stated their gruesome, disgusting mission publicly. We cannot claim shock this time around.

Kamilat Mehdi, Ethiopia (photo: BBC)

What can you do?

* Get involved with groups like the International Campaign Against Honour Killings. Acid attacks are often used in instances where a woman is seen has having “dishonored” her family, community, or religion. The ICAHK works against this brutality.

* Learn more from Amnesty International, and join their campaign to protect women’s rights.

* Educate yourself and take action. Start by watching videos like this in their entirety, and learn about the organizations you can become involved with. An example is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which releases yearly reports on violence against women.

We cannot claim ignorance or justify inaction.

Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)
Asha, India (photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)