Uphill Existence for Former Female Combatants in Uganda
Life for a 25-year-old Ugandan mother of four who at age 11 was forced into servitude by a rebel group has not improved much since she escaped its clutches. Rejected by her home village due to the stigma of working with the rebels and bearing the child of a rebel leader, she is now struggling to feed her family.
“I am living here in Kasubi [near the city of Gulu] where I brew alcohol to raise money for food, rent, and to treat the children if they fall sick. I have nowhere I can turn for help,” she told IRIN news service.
The uncle of another female combatant who tried to return home told his niece, now 27, “I can’t take care of you, you know why, you have been a rebel in the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] and we fear you.” This young woman was kidnapped from home at age 10. Her village looked down on her when she returned. “I felt it in the way they talked and treated my child,” she said.
Lack of Reintegration Programs for Women and Girls
While in the rebel army, women like these were made to carry guns, cook, spy, and have sex with male soldiers. Like 200 to 300 other former female abductees living in Kasubi ward alone, these young women are living desperate, impoverished lives outside of Gulu, where they moved after finding they were not welcomed in their ancestral homes.
Compounding their ability to make a living is these women’s lack of access to land. Forced female conscripts commonly return home to find family land redistributed to non-family members; children born to mothers serving the rebel army are unable to claim land inheritance.
Reintegration programs for such women and girls are rare to nonexistent, according to IRIN. Former combatants face a slew of health issues arising from the sexual violence and physical trauma they suffered under captivity.
With no institutions to turn to, many returnees have resorted to prostitution to stay alive.
SOS Children’s Villages, in Uganda for more than two decades, raises vulnerable children such as those born into captivity. Through its three Children’s Villages in Uganda, SOS also helps to bolster fragile families on the brink of poverty and disintegration. To learn more, please visit www.sos-usa.org.
Photo credit: SOS Children's Villages
By Kyna Rubin, SOS Children's Villages