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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"My husband treated me badly. I was beaten. When I delivered a child, I was isolated from the rest of the women. He said that the child I had delivered was not from him. But the child was from him. The Commander got angry with him and beat him up because he was refusing me and the child."

The function of forced marriage

The power inherent in the ownership of girl-children and women by male LRA soldiers is a twisted and extended form of that which exists in more familiar social settings. Government reports describe a broader patriarchal social context in Uganda in which women and girls have a lower status than males within the family, community, and society at large. Wife ownership, polygamy and a husband's exclusive sexual rights over his wife (which means that rape in marriage is effectively not recognised) all exist in society beyond the LRA.(15) A report prepared by the Ministry of Gender and Community Development states that ''most people have been socialised to look at domestic violence as a normal practice''.(16)

What is specific to the LRA is the extent, nature, and function of violence against women, and the particularly brutal, hierarchical and institutionalized circumstances through which abuses of women's human rights are promoted. The ownership of women and girls resulting from abduction, forced conscription and forced marriage is part and parcel of the military strategy of the LRA and the social order devised by the leadership. It is both a reflection and the foundation of that social order.

The allocation of women is a reward system for male soldiers. It gives them persons to carry out domestic tasks and provides them with sexual access. R., a 15-year old boy, puts it succinctly:

"When in Uganda boys don't have sex with abducted girls. They would be shot immediately. When they have been brought back to Sudan the girls are distributed to commanders, to those who are hardworking. It is to encourage them."

T. describes a commander being rewarded for fighting:

"In Sudan, I was attached to the home of brigadier M. There were 45 persons attached to his home. He had seven wives, one had a baby. When M. went back to Uganda [to fight], he was given two more wives."

Given that LRA military operations include abducting other children and deliberately and arbitrarily killing civilians and captured government soldiers, "encouragement" is an incentive for such behaviour.

Being allocated women is also a source of prestige and a proof of status. The higher the rank within the LRA hierarchy, the greater the number of "wives" or "helpers". R. again:

"Kony has 30 wives. Then the senior commanders have eight wives. Other high-ranking fellows have four wives. It works like a family."

Sixteen-year old G. was made a "wife" after she was abducted in April 1994:

"My husband was S.O. he was an old man! He was a major. I was his second wife. Two more were brought when I was staying with him. Some men did not have a wife because they had no rank."

The function of forced marriage as a pillar of the LRA social order is demonstrated by the strict regulations imposed on the sexual behaviour of both boys and girls, which R.'s testimony refers to above. Once a girl has been abducted, sexual contact with members of the LRA other than the allocated ''owner'' is strictly forbidden. It is punished by the killing of both the boy and girl in the case of consensual sex or of the boy in the case of rape. A girl abducted in October 1996 reported that one of her classmates was raped before she was allocated to a man: