Northern Youths Neglected – Report

A report by Alert International, a peace-building organisation has found that majority of youths in Acholi and Lango sub-regions are least likely to become economically and socially empowered due to government’s failure to link reconstruction programmes with local expectations.

The Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) is one such reconstruction programme for northern Uganda which government launched at the return of relative peace in 2008. Part of this programme is tailored to train youths in vocational skills largely to empower them become economically self-reliant.

According to the survey report launched last month, 76.2 per cent of youths in Acholi and Lango sub-regions lack formal vocational skills qualifications yet vocational activities are high income generators. At least 1,136 youths were surveyed, including formerly internally-displaced persons (IDPs), former abductees, and former combatants.

Of those who have received vocational training, 50 per cent were still unemployed, and felt the skills they acquired were inadequate or inapplicable.

“Young people are one of the most neglected groups in northern Uganda, [after] 21 years of conflict, whole generations have missed out on education, training, jobs and, by implication, the ability to become economically and socially empowered,” the report reads.

Harriet Aceng, an LRA survivor from Amuru, is one of the least-fortunate youths with no vocational skills. In 1996, Aceng’s mother, Mary Laker, relocated her family from Lacor village in Amuru to Gulu town to escape the raging rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion.

This was after her husband and father of six was abducted by the rebels. Aceng, then 10 years old, was Laker’s oldest child with whom she struggled to fend for the family in a war zone.

Before moving to Gulu, Aceng would ride her mother on a bicycle for a distance of more than 36km to look for food, or take her (Aceng) siblings to hospital.

“I [grew up] seeing people being killed, I could move through dead bodies by the roadside, life was not easy,” says Aceng, now a mother of three.

Aceng is just one among many other youths in northern Uganda who missed out on an education because of the two-decade-long LRA rebellion. Because she dropped out of school, Aceng became a mother at 17. She has since enrolled for a tailoring and fashion design course at Bwaise Youth employment Centre in Kampala.

“It is because of the war that we were not educated. I feel a lot of pain that the government is not doing enough to help victims of the war,” she told The Observer.

She was part of the audience at Uganda Christian University Mukono, where the report was launched last month.

“Government is not delivering on its promises… look at how they handled the resettlement programme, they gave us bad hoes, rotten seeds, is that what they promised us under the programme?” she wonders.

Given their low levels of education and skills, the report says, formerly displaced youths are facing great difficulties in finding work. This is also attributed to cultural practices, gender discrimination, and limited opportunities to access productive resources.

“Young abductees who missed an education in captivity are unable to re-enter the school system, few ever catch up and bridging programmes are scarce. The lack of economic opportunities drives many young people into illicit or ethically-questionable means of obtaining money,” the report reads in part.

It is six years since peace returned to the north but still many young children cannot go to school. Because of the war and Aids, the number of child-headed households is growing. The survey reveals that about 20 per cent of youths are not involved in any income-generating activity with a larger portion of them (59.7 per cent) living in the Lango sub-region.

Among youths with an income, males earn twice as much as their female compatriots, with boda boda transport listed as the most rewarding occupation. Ex-combatants are more economically better off, having benefitted from the resettlement packages from the government, which included money.

Source : The Observer

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