By Beatrice Lamwaka
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Reintegration is hard for all child soldiers in northern Uganda who were abducted and forced to commit atrocities for insurgents. For girls who also had to marry and have children with rebels, the social rejection can be particularly acute.
Sam Lawino, a northern Ugandan journalist, says the amnesty certificates given to the returnees to protect them from being labeled as killers and attracting revenge are ineffective.
Gladys Cano-Ogura is the coordinator of Women Peace Initiative, a community-based organization that helps formerly abducted girls in Kitgum, a district in northern Uganda.
"They are meeting a lot of challenges in reintegrating," Cano-Ogura says. "When they came back under the amnesty law, some of them were not fully accepted by their parents since they had children whose fathers' clan was not known."
Steven Oola, head of research and advocacy for the Refugee Law Project, which provides legal aid to internally displaced people here, has done extensive research in northern Uganda.
"The unclear distinction between victims and perpetrators of the LRA insurgency makes reintegration a huge task," he says. "The abducted children were forced to commit severe atrocities in their own villages, sometimes on family members. The distinction between abductees and combatant was blurred in the eyes of their own family members."
Oola says male and female returnees have different reintegration experiences.
"While both male and female returnees face enormous stereotypes and rejection from communities, female returnees suffer disproportionately more," he says.
He says one reason is because many women were forced to marry and bear children with the LRA rebels.
"First, the female abductees were forcefully given off to senior commanders as wives and mistresses," he says. "Many were also impregnated and forced to bear children without consent. A woman returning home with children is bound to be rejected by her own family members."
He says the women who return with children pose a problem for their communities' land distribution.
"Female returnees bearing girls were more likely to be received home than those with boys," he says. "Apparently, this was because the community perceives girls as likely to be married off but the boys grow up and start claiming land."
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Beatrice Lamwaka, from Kampala, Uganda, joined Global Press Institute's Uganda News Desk in June 2010. She is on the shortlist for the 2011 Caine Prize and loves telling stories that are read and heard by others.
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