Thursday, July 01, 2010

The child mothers of Uganda

Early childhood abductions and mass rapes have been two of the weapons of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. The Army will kidnap young girls to be made wives to the soldiers, or young boys will stolen away to fight in the army. The girls suffer beatings and rapes by "husbands" who don't love them. The women are forced to bare the children that were conceived by the rapes.

If any of these women are able to leave the Lord's Resistance Army they are not quite accepted by the community. The "rebel children" suffer more taunting and beatings, and are unwanted by anyone but their mothers, even by new husbands. In Uganda, children who are born out of wedlock face a bad social stigma, it is much worse for the children born out of the rebel army.

From CTV, writer Darcy Wintonyk visited Uganda with the Canadian International Development Agency. In this story, Darcy gives a few examples of the kidnapped girls who escaped and went on to improve their lives.

Twenty-eight-year-old Beatrice Akello has been praised for her beauty her entire life. As a child growing up in Atiak, Uganda, elderly women in the village would pinch her smooth cheeks as she walked by, her long silky black hair always tied with bright ribbon. She loved the attention -- until she was abducted by rebels with the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, in 1995.

In captivity in Sudan, she was kept segregated from men until she got her first period at age 13. Then she was forced to marry a 30-year-old rebel. She was the first girl picked from a group of dozens.

"I never loved him," she tells me. "Because I feared for my life I had to accept."

Beatrice was one of seven wives, all physically and emotionally abused at the hands of their husband.

"If I refused to sleep with him he would beat me seriously. Or just rape me. He said I was the most beautiful so he gave me the most attention. I wished I was ugly."

Against her wishes, she would bear two children with him in captivity.

Famished and desperate in the jungle, Beatrice told the commander the women in the village were starving to death. The rebels released her, along with several other child mothers. Her youngest child was two.

All alone with no income, Beatrice took out a $200 loan from World Vision in 2008 to buy three sewing machines and selected a group of child mothers to start making clothing to generate income so they didn't need to rely on men and could independently support their children.

She now runs the Lacan Pe Nino Child Mother's Association (LPNCA), a school program run from a one-room warehouse that used to store cotton in the 1970s. Of the 21 child mothers, only one says her partner approves.

"I think the men are just jealous," Beatrice says. "We just want to work hard. We missed the chance to go to school. We are finally making a difference in our own lives. Even if it's just a small group at least it's a start."

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