Not Without Our Children

Not Without Our Children

Justice for Children Born of War in Uganda

by Lorraine Smith-van Lin

Founder and Executive Director of Tallawah Justice for Women

From February to April 2024, Tallawah Justice for Women e.V and its partners Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalisation and the University of Nottingham School of Law, will implement the project Not Without our Children: Women survivor leaders advocate for multi-sectoral and multi-level responses to end intergenerational gendered harms against children born of war. The project is aimed at addressing one of the main concerns of women survivor leaders in their quest for justice and reparations: the future of their children born of war.

Children born of war (CBOW) are an endangered species in Uganda. Stigmatised and ostracised, their otherness and non-registration as Ugandan citizens, render them vulnerable to exploitation and deny them access to benefits. These children are the legacy of the gendered harms suffered by their mothers during Uganda’s  protracted armed conflict. Through workshops and dialogue sessions between the women survivor leaders, their children born of war, community and religious leaders, this project will empower women survivor leaders to advocate for an end to inter-generational harm against CBOWs through an integrated, multi-sectoral and multi-level process, including: concerted action by the Ugandan government under the transitional justice framework; reconciliation and reintegration processes facilitated by community and religious leaders; and a campaign to end stigmatisation and ensure reparative justice for CBOWs.

CBOWs have now been recognised as direct victims of the crimes committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that waged a brutal war with government forces in Northern Uganda for decades. In its reparations decision in the case of Dominic Ongwen, former LRA commander, handed down on February 28, 2024, Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court (ICC) found that CBOWs were direct victims of Ongwen. Ongwen was convicted in February 2021of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including unprecedented numbers of sexual and gender-based crimes committed against civilians in Northern Uganda.

Many of the girls abducted during the war became forced wives of Ongwen himself or were given to members of his Brigade as wives. The children born in captivity have suffered rejection and stigmatisation upon their return home. Many of the women do not know the correct names of the fathers of their children as some of the rebels reportedly used aliases while they were in the bush (the bush refers to the deep areas of the jungle where the LRA hid and carried out its activities). Upon their return, the children could not connect to their paternal clan, a pre-requisite for land acquisition and a sense of belonging in Uganda.

Beatrice Ladu, a war survivor recounts that Dominic Ongwen took her and gave her to another, much older man in the same battalion as his wife. She gave birth to her children while in captivity but now that she has returned, she doesn’t know where the father of her children are, his family home or land. As a result, she and her children are homeless and her son has suffered significantly as a result- rejected and stigmatised with no future. Akello Florence recalled being abducted at 10 years old and forced into early marriage. She gave birth at 11 years old and was forced to carry heavy loads and was severely beaten. These women and their children continue to suffer the residual physical and psychosocial trauma from their horrific experiences.

However, grassroots activists and Tallwah partner organisations such as Pamela Angwech from GWED-G and Jane Ekayu of Children of Peace, Uganda are working to end the cycles of pain and trauma experienced by women survivors and their children born of war. GWED-G is one of the organisations in Northern Uganda, that is vehemently advocating for Uganda’s National Transitional Justice Policy to be made into Law. The organisation now heads the Transitional Justice (TJ) Working Group, a coalition of grassroots and national civil society organisations, working to advance the transitional justice dialogue in Uganda. CBOWs and their reintegration into communities is one of the issues addressed by the TJ Policy. But a pending TJ Bill, which would provide the legal basis for government action and resource allocation, has yet to be passed.

In the meantime, other voices are emerging from the grassroots including from the CBOWs themselves. Fatuma Abiya, a child born of war is now a young adult, a lawyer and human rights activist. Through the persistence and resilience of her mother, Evelyn Amony, who was abducted at a young age and who gave birth to her while in captivity, Fatumata has managed to get an education. Evelyn herself established the Women Advocacy Network, a grassroots network of war survivors which now has a strong and vibrant group of CBOWs, lead by Fatuma, who are advocating for change. Fatuma’s mission, despite everything she has gone through, is to advocate for CBOWs to be recognised as human beings with rights. She welcomes the Ongwen reparations decision as the first official recognition of the plight and suffering of children born of war, and their right to receive reparations. Fatumata’s biggest concern is that many CBOWs do not have an identity and sense of belonging, which is exacerbated by the fact that the Ugandan registration laws still require the name of the father to be included on a child’s birth certificate. This has created grave challenges for CBOWs many of whom cannot secure birth certificates or national ID cards in order to attend educational institutions, get jobs or carry out activities which citizens of Uganda are normally entitled to.

The Ongwen decision has placed a spotlight on what remains a troubling issue in Uganda. The CBOWs are now young adults and are beginning, rightfully, to demand a place in Ugandan society and access to the benefits to which all citizens should be entitled. By engaging community leaders and religious leaders, together with the women leaders and the CBOWs, this project will hopefully catalyse a broader national discussion under the rubric of the TJ policy process which will bring about change to the lives of this marginalised group. CBOWs are the future of Uganda and every effort must be made to secure it.


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