The Crisis Tracker

Cutting-Edge Tool Helps Return Stolen Children to Their Communities


Cutting-Edge Tool Helps Return Stolen Children to Their Communities

The adage goes, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” For children in central Africa ripped from their families by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and forced to serve as child “wives” and soldiers, their first step toward freedom begins with an escape. Many of these escapees have been aided by Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker.


According to The New Humanitarian, “During the 1990s and 2000s, more than 100,000 people were killed and tens of thousands of children conscripted by the LRA, who claimed to be protecting northern Uganda’s ethnic Acholi community against Museveni’s regime. A self-styled spirit medium, Kony also hoped to establish a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments.” 


Invisible Children has been working with communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan since 2004 to help families reunite and communities heal. “It’s a region where a lot of NGOs have receded and pulled out,” says Program Manager Maya Moseley. The violence and abductions continue, even as the complex conflict changes over time. Since 2008, there have been 2,540 attacks, 8,374 abductions, and 3,175 casualties, according to Invisible Children.


“While the LRA is no longer the big news it once was, it is still a threat to these communities,” says Moseley. “Between December 2020 and June 2021, we saw the largest defection of abductees from the LRA since 2014. “There were at least 88 people, including women, children, and two combatants. But when we say combatants, they had been abducted. One of them had been abducted [as long ago as] 2008.”


Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker taps into a system that connects local Peace Committees in more than 140 communities. It’s a key tool in finding and returning escapees from the LRA  to their communities. A team of international experts verifies information about LRA attacks, abductions, and returnees using the Crisis Tracker. Invisible Children also uses the Crisis Tracker to monitor the activities of the LRA and the group’s impact on civilian populations in real time. In addition to its online map, the Crisis Tracker also produces conflict analyses via daily email alerts and regular trend summaries, maintains a database of missing persons abducted by the LRA, and is used to coordinate the transit and reunification of LRA escapees. .


“If a local community reports an LRA attack, the local Peace Committee will tell us the abductees’ names, ages, and parents’ information. So, when they do escape, we have this database of missing persons that we can quickly use to help identify their families and speed the process along,” says Moseley.


Unfortunately, says Moseley, if an abductee has been held by the LRA for more than five years, “[we don’t always have that information. In those cases, we really work directly with the local communities. They can tell us if [escapees] have any relatives who are chiefs or customary leaders or religious leaders, so that way we can tap into those networks to find their families.”


In addition to being trained to immediately report the appearance and locations of escapees for the Crisis Tracker database, local communities help provide essential care for them as transportation home is arranged.


“After someone escapes, they are transferred to one of our hubs where we have a field office.  Trained host families, who really act as foster families, rebuild socialization and give them that sense of normalcy while we search for their families,” says Moseley. The escapees receive medical care, as well as psychosocial support. Peace Committee members and host families participate in  mobile cinema film screening and discussion nights that facilitate the young children’s reintegration into the community and are trained to recognize and positively respond to signs of trauma. Since March 2020, Invisible Children has conducted 108 trauma awareness sessions with 4,791 local participants and trained 76 local volunteers to recognize its symptoms, provide Psychological First Aid and peer support, and promote positive coping skills.


Psychosocial support is essential, says Moseley, because the journey doesn’t end once escapees arrive back in their communities. Those taken as children, who are reunited with their families as young adults, have seen and experienced deep trauma, as well as indoctrination. “In a group of 21 who escaped in February, there were some who had been abducted, and then forced to be wives. One of them was nine months pregnant when she escaped. So, it is heartbreaking, but the resilience she showed is amazing.” 


The Crisis Tracker and many of Invisible Children’s other programs are made possible through the USAID-funded Community Resilience in Central Africa (CRCA) Activity; Invisible Children also accepts individual donations and enlists volunteers to fundraise and advocate. For more information on Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker, go to crisistracker.org.