War better than peace for Uganda's rebel children, study says
By Daniel Wesangula
NAIROBI, April 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children whose mothers were raped by rebels in Uganda say war was better than peace because they felt a greater sense of family cohesion and status during the conflict compared to the violence, stigma and rejection they face in peacetime, a study showed.
Researchers from Canada's McGill University interviewed 60 children born to women abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, which waged a brutal insurgency in Uganda for two decades until 2005, when it was forced over the border.
"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," Myriam Denov, the study's lead author and professor at McGill's School of Social Work, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The children, some of whom were fathered by LRA's messianic leader, Joseph Kony, often drew themselves and their siblings with sad faces after the war.
"In my family, they hate the three of us who were born in captivity," the researchers quoted one child as saying.
"My uncle beats us and said he would kill us."
The children said their families and communities perceived them as dangerous, rebel children who had brought bad spirits with them from the bush.
The LRA is notorious for mutilating civilians and kidnapping children for use as fighters. Many children were forced to kill their friends and family.
Dominic Ongwen, a former LRA commander who was captured and recruited as a young boy, is on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.
Children born through rape and forced marriage were cared for by their rebel fathers who provided vital material needs, which they lack in peacetime, the research found.
"Life was not all that bad because my father was still there," the researchers quoted one child as saying.
"He would even wake me up to eat what he brought for me because he used to love me so much."
The LRA, who are thought to number just a few hundred, roam remote jungle straddling the borders of Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic since being ejected from Uganda by its military.
Many of the children, aged between 12 and 19, interviewed for the study spent their formative years in captivity from the age of a few months to up to seven years.
(Reporting by Daniel Wesangula; Editing by Katy Migiro and Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)