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


Maira Sun
Maira Sun6 years ago


Matisse B.

Thanks to Ms Ruben from SOS for this article. We at WITNESS are supporting women in the northern region of Uganda to use video to press the Ugandan government for more direct support for these women and their families. They are specifically asking for support for livelihood programs and for psycho-social support. We've written about the campaign's preliminary steps on our blog here: http://blog.witness.org/2011/02/ugandarecoveryplan-women-greater-north/

Roisin Campbell
Past Member 6 years ago

Thank you for making me aware of the suffering that some women go through. I want to stretch out my arm and pull them out of the pit. Stay strong. Sending love and prayers.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p6 years ago

heartbreaking to read.

pam w.
pam wilkerson6 years ago

Where is Oprah when they needed her????

Toni T.
Toni T6 years ago

This is where victim reparation schemes fail - they don't understand the reality and needs of specific post-war victim groups. Transitional justice must not only be about finding out whodunnit but also about integrating the marginalized communities and victims in a real way. Women also are often the forgotten victims.

bernadette Price
Berny p6 years ago

FORGET the UN...lots of wind....nothing else!

Christine S.

So sad- women are treated like crap at every possible level- treated poorly by the rebels, then their own families, as though they had any say in their abduction! Like someone else already said, get Oprah to help these poor women!

Ann S.
Ann Sasko6 years ago


J C Bro
J C Brou6 years ago

Thanks for the article.