Children born into the captivity of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remain a largely neglected and overlooked child survivor population. The children who successfully transitioned out of the LRA exist on the margins of their society, stigmatised and with limited life opportunities. This field note offers a review of the lives of 29 such children living in the urban centre of Gulu town, drawn from a three-year project documenting their lives. While the children have developed strategies to conceal their true identities, this report determines ways to support their future well-being, while simultaneously contributing to the reconciliation process of their communities.
The research findings include:
The children face significant stigma from communities, peers, and even at times from family members, including violent abuse from stepfathers, so they employ strategies to keep their identities secret. Those whose fathers are top commanders still at-large fear for their safety if their fathers are captured. Other children do not know their lineages and long to connect. All the mothers find it difficult to tell them the realities of their identities. Despite such stigma and uncertain identities, the children insist they are the same as other children.
Support from family members is vital to their sense of well-being, especially with their mothers whom they love deeply. Many children lost siblings in the bush.
Many children live with memories and trauma. They remember the violence from the bush and feel the loss of a parent, or of both parents. Remembering is triggered by sadness resulting from quarrelling, beatings, or sickness. For some, their memories are physically embodied and manifest as spiritual problems, or psychosis. All the children who remember employ strategies to forget.
Religion is important in the children’s lives and prayer offers them a form of meditation to help them quiet their minds, while church provides them with a welcoming place to be among friends.
Children are unlikely to access their land inheritances, and they feel hopeless.
The children dream of a bright future for themselves, but the layering of their unique hardships on top of the significant poverty they live in makes that unlikely.
The children found the project to be transformative. The participatory action research methodology and opportunity to play enabled deep friendships to develop while the children learned about themselves, their mothers, and how to manage their identities and challenge intergenerational problems.
A number of the children’s rights have been violated and require redress. They should be active agents in processes of transitional justice.
- Documentation of children born into LRA captivity must continue and should include records of children who died.
- Broad community sensitisation initiatives must be implemented.
- The children must be appropriately engaged to identify needs and peer support activities such as this project should be expanded across the region.
- Mothers must be empowered with livelihood skills and grants.
- Fathers must be held accountable for support of their children.
- The government must support the children so they grow into productive citizens
Download this Field Note here (pdf): We Are All The Same – Experiences of children born into LRA captivity 2015-12-22