This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Britain doesn't care about Uganda's children

In Britain, we really don't like children very much. If we did, we wouldn't put up with quite so much Guardian G2/Allison Pearson-type whingeing about how "they adore children on the Continent; you can even take them into restaurants there". I am sure they let children into restaurants in Belgium. Unfortunately, Baby Tintin sharing a plate of mussels with Mummy and Daddy didn't prevent the authorities colluding in cover-ups of paedophile rings.

And for those who accept the glib myth that eating out with kids equates with a caring society, I would like to point out that the paedophile rings are to be found next to the sliced organic mango and dried dates in all good health food shops.

No, Britain doesn't like children for a whole host of reasons, one being Margaret Hodge. Given her record of dealing with child abuse as leader of Islington Council, her appointment as minister for children is about as appropriate as putting Michael Jackson in charge of Barnardo's.

A second reason is Children in Need, which should be renamed Being a Twat for Charity. That children in poverty should have to rely on grown men sitting in bathtubs of Spaghetti Hoops and farting the theme tune to Emmerdale to help them is beyond belief. Not to mention the irony of Terry Wogan and Gaby Roslin patronising the bloke in the tub over his loss of dignity.

But perhaps what riles us most is some barmy Eurocrat or liberal do-gooder trying to stop us smacking our kids. Britain loves its children--that is why we will fight for our right to physically assault them. Disciplining children is our forte, which is why I propose a father and-son bare-knuckle boxing contest to raise money for Children in Need.

There is another example of how much we dislike children, at a place that should be twinned with Soham. Because a tragedy equivalent to what allegedly happened in Soham occurs there each and every day of the year. Except it occurs 20 times a day. This place is northern Uganda where, according to the United Nations, 8,500 children have been abducted this year alone by the cult Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony. Britain is in a unique position to help stop this horror, but has so far chosen not to do so.

In its "Break the Silence" campaign, the Church Mission Society has highlighted the killing of the abducted children and the appalling atrocities committed against them. Human Rights Watch has documentary testimonies from children who have managed to escape.

Some are forced into slavery, carrying heavy loads through the bush. Most abducted girls, on reaching puberty, are given to the army's adult commanders as "wives": most of them become pregnant and are left to give birth in the bush with only other girls of a similar age to help them. Many of the women who escape have contracted sexually transmitted diseases. Angela P, abducted at the age of ten, said: "As a wife I was beaten and sexually abused ... I was beaten so many times, I couldn't count."

Most of the children are forced to become soldiers. Brutal killings are used to create the controlling emotions of fear and guilt. Edward T, now 18, describes how new recruits were forced to beat a child to death: "Each one had a turn and could only stop once the blood from the body splashed up on you." John Okwir, now 19, was forced to kill his own brother by stoving his head in. These are not exceptional tales; they are commonplace among the thousands of children held.

Even the British government has admitted that the fear of raids by the Lord's Resistance Army has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, who end up in "protective camps". Each night, children flock to Kitgum to sleep together at bus stations or on factory floors. Knowing they could be abducted in the night, they seek protection in numbers. The UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, has said that "this crisis is in many ways worse than Iraq".

So where are the human rights dossiers from Jack Straw released in a blaze of publicity? Is this another case where the west can't be bothered because of the edict "No oil, no toil"?

Instead of praising Uganda as an African success story, Britain might mention the Ugandan government's own use of child soldiers. As Uganda's largest aid donor, the UK has leverage. Instead of focusing on fictitious weapons of mass destruction, Tony Blair might focus on the biggest killers--small arms--and on how to control the vile trade in them rather than support his big-business arms buddies.

But first, Blair et al have to perform a simple task, which is to find the political will to give a fuck.


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