Uganda: "Breaking God's commands": The destruction of childhood by the Lord's Resistance Army

September 17, 1997

Uganda: "Breaking God's commands": The destruction of childhood by the Lord's Resistance Army

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"When they tell me they were given as a "helper" to this man's family, I'll ask them about the sleeping arrangements. Eventually, they will say, "even at midnight, the man can call me." The man will say, "bring me water" or "prepare my bed". And then sexual abuse and rape will take place. All the girls deny it at first. But eventually they'll say so."

The testimony of girls who admit to forced sex either as a "wife" or "helper" corroborates the medical and professional evidence. As 16-year old G. described it:

"The Commander gave us husbands, except for the young ones, those below 13. But for 13 onwards, we were all given as wives. There was no marriage ceremony. But if you refuse, you are killed."

Male ownership of girls and women extends to the power to transfer them to another "husband". This appears to be more especially exercised in the bush in Uganda itself rather than the more settled conditions of base camps in Sudan. In Uganda rebels and their captives are on the move all the time. They are exposed to military action that results in death and injury. A group may be split up or united with a new unit coming from Sudan. The instability of the military situation and the fast changing composition of the group mean imposed relationships are precarious. Girls and women may pass through several men when the one to whom they were originally allocated dies or is moved on. According to a counsellor working with former child soldiers:

"If a husband gets tired of his wife, he gets rid of her and she is given to someone else. Within a one year period, girls would have seen many husbands."

Girls and women, on the other hand, cannot pick their own "husband". As B. puts it:

"There is a very strong discipline -- you are not allowed to pick another man."

Neither, once a girl has been allocated as a "wife", is she able to refuse sex forced on her by her "husband". Punishment for resisting is severe. A. described the case of a girl called L.:

"The husband wanted her to go and sleep with him. She refused. She was beaten up terribly in the morning. But she did not care; she said God is protecting her."

L. was fortunate; according to other testimony, men have near absolute power. According to P.:

"Some men beat their wives. Some men killed them too. I saw one wife being killed by her husband."

However, in the case of women with children it appears that their male "owners" are expected to take some degree of responsibility for their welfare, sometimes enforced by more senior commanders. G was allocated to S.O.: