TJ Monitor: Children and the draft Transitional Justice Policy – is there hope for children born in captivity?

When I chanced on Jean De La Croix Tabaro’s article on the dilemma of children born of rape in the Rwandan genocide, I couldn’t help but think about our own children in northern Uganda born as a result of rape, forced marriage, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery during the 20 year conflict. At the height of the conflict, thousands of women and girls were abducted and forced to become wives to rebel commanders while in captivity and as a result they begot children by these commanders. At the same time, many of the women and girls who were displaced in Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps were raped and forced to become wives to Government soldiers wherein they begot children.

When the conflict ended, the women returned home with these children amidst challenges way too remote for mainstream transitional justice (TJ) to address such as identities issues i.e. tracing for the identities of the paternal clans/families of the children. This has been complicated more by the fact that the “bush husbands” did not reveal to the women their real names, clans or the physical locations of their homes. The women and girls who lived in IDP camps are facing similar challenges. All the government soldiers (UPDF) who raped and forced the women and girls into “marriage” have since then been re-deployed to other locations or are dead, in both circumstances automatically shifting parental responsibility on the women who survive by engaging in petty activities to barely make ends meet, having lost the opportunity to earn an education in order to favourably compete for rewarding jobs.

Recently, the Government of Uganda through the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) released a draft national TJ Policy in response to Uganda’s legacy of past violations and to provide accountability and reconciliation through a combination of justice mechanisms. Whereas the policy makes reference to children as a vulnerable group, this reference seems to mirror child survivors per se but not children born as a result of the violations and abuses. This lack of distinction removes children born in captivity/displacement out of the picture thus leaving their needs and concerns unmet, which seems like a time bomb ticking away.

The identity of many children born in captivity or displacement has not been established, so acquiring something as simple as a birth certificate for them is a challenge for them. Likewise since the identity of their fathers, clans, families and place of origin is unknown all the responsibility for these children is placed on their mothers who cannot adequately provide for their basic needs such as shelter, feeding, clothing, education and medical care. This in effect has left them without hope.

In order to respond to the specific needs of the children born in captivity/displacement, it is imperative for Government to address the issue of identity of the children. A policy should be made to expedite and simplify registration of the children for purposes of obtaining birth certificates since the process has proved to be a nightmare for women survivors who do not know the details of the fathers of their children besides the date, month, year and place of birth. In implementing the reparation mechanism, it is recommended that the children born in captivity/displacement should be considered in a separate group to ensure that their needs and concerns are addressed otherwise they might end up picking bread crumbs from under the tables.