For children born of wartime rape, peacetime doesn’t always bring relief or an end to violence. These children often endure continued brutality.
This finding comes from a new study of children born to mothers abducted, held captive, and sexually violated by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Joseph Kony led this rebel group during the civil war in northern Uganda from 1986 to 2007.
Because the perspectives of children born of wartime rape has gotten little attention, researchers from McGill University joined forces with Watye Ki Gen, a collective of women whom the LRA abducted and held in captivity. Together, they interviewed 60 children and young people born within the LRA and currently living in northern Uganda. Participants in this study were between the ages of 12 and 19 at the time of the interviews. Many had spent their formative years in captivity, ranging from a few months after being born to seven years.
“Life is hard here because people stigmatize us…they have turned their hate against us…”
To supplement interviews and focus groups and to enable participants to express themselves in multiple forms, the youth also had the opportunity to participate in an arts-based workshop.
When asked to draw their family before and after the war, children often drew themselves and their siblings with sad faces in post-war drawings. When questioned about this, children explained that in many ways they felt their lives were actually better during the war.
This surprising finding, published in Child Abuse & Neglect, is a result of multiple forms of violence, stigma, rejection, social exclusion, and socioeconomic marginalization endured by children born in LRA captivity, explains Myriam Denov, lead author of the study and professor at McGill’s School of Social Work.
“The fact that children and youth identify the state of war and captivity—when violence, upheaval, starvation, deprivation, and ongoing terror were at its height—as better than life during peacetime is highly disconcerting and demonstrates the extent of their perceived post-war marginalization,” says Denov, the author of Child Soldiers: Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Youths interviewed for the study—some of whom shared the same father, LRA leader Joseph Kony—often articulated that “war was better than peace” because during the conflict they felt a greater sense of family cohesion and status within the LRA.
“Life is hard here because people stigmatize us…they have turned their hate against us…In my family, they hate the three of us who were born in captivity…My uncle beats us and said he would kill us. He doesn’t want rebel children, Kony children, at home,” explained one of the participants.
The findings underscore the need for support services to reverse the perception that war is better than peace. Specifically, youths stressed the need for livelihood programs targeting their socioeconomic marginalization, support for school fees, psychosocial support, and community sensitization and reconciliation programs.
Funding for the research came from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
Source: McGill University