Born in Captivity: Integrating LRA children

By Ochan Hannington

Many stories about the infamous Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by the infamous Joseph Kony, focus on child soldiers - kidnapped and recruited. However re-integrating children born in captivity, is now presenting a huge hurdle for peace in central Africa.

The LRA, have abducted at least 30,000 people since they began, and women like Florence were forced to marry fighters.

"I think I was abducted in 1997, I stayed in the bush for about two or three years," Florence told Peace News.

For these women, returning home is an enormous challenge.

Sean Poole, from leading advocacy organization Invisible Children, said that socially, there’s a stigma attached to having spent time in the LRA.

“In central Africa there's a lack of understanding from many communities of what the LRA truly is," Mr Poole said.

"One of the more difficult challenges within the LRA context is women who have been forced into what is essentially sexual slavery, and assigned as a - quote-unquote - "wife" to an LRA commander," he said.

"These women are often time impregnated, and have children in captivity, and in most cases when they escape, they escape with children."

"They return home with - essentially - kids who are foreign to their own community and are really highly stigmatized because they're single mothers with children from a rebel commander."

"It is incredibly challenging, and very devastating to see how that plays out locally."

While progress has been made in re-integration programs for abductees, and the US and Uganda have announced a withdrawal from the hunt for Joseph Kony on the grounds that the LRA is greatly diminished, children born in captivity are a second generation to suffer the devastating impact of the LRA.

"I think probably the biggest issue lingering issue is children who were born in captivity," said Timothy Fadgen, an East African expert at World Vision.

Not all communities reject returnees, and there is hope.

"To see that those children are treated fairly, that the mothers are treated fairly - that is an on-going challenge, and it's something that the community in Uganda is dealing with head-on," Mr Fadgen said.

"In places where this is working it's because the local communities are engaged," said Mr Poole.

"You have to not only support LRA victims that are returning home, but also community members who have suffered trauma at the hands of the LRA, yet were never abducted," he said.

"Supporting trauma services at the community level drives down stigmatization; it also drives down isolation for individuals and creates more community cohesiveness."

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