Experiential stories from the children across the world
Experiences of Former Child Soldiers (FCS)
An understanding of the experiences, motivations, and needs of FCS is a critical component as it lays a strong foundation for long lasting peace based on correct reintegration strategies. Williamson (2006) concluded in the case of Sierra Leone that the country’s future stability depended on whether the majority of youth would find access into the nexus of education, skills training and employment and that ensuring the access of FCS to these opportunities was a critical part of the reintegration phase of the country’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process. In the Uganda case, Angucia (2010) observed that majority of the FCS were forcefully recruited and many escaped from the hands of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). She rightly equates their episode of escape to demobilization itself. Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 calls this “informal demobilization.” In retrospect, more focus and attention in northern Uganda should be on reintegration and less on Disarmament and Demobilization (DD).
Life in Captivity
Angucia (2010) carried out a study between 2006 and 2008 to determine social reintegration of Formerly Abducted Children in northern Uganda. The study involved a total of 255 respondents, of whom 97 were formerly Abducted Children. The study employed action research method to help clearly understand the victims’ past experiences and the extent to which their lives had normalized. Angucia (Ibid: 117) described life in captivity as one of constant fear and threat. She noted that this threat ran through ones entire life in captivity. The story of Denis, a former child soldier, perhaps is the best illustration of the situation:
In the merry month of December 1996, the villages were filled with flowers of gay to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. This turned out to be a night to remember for the young boy Denis by then. He cried the night he was abducted just as a newly born child cries when it is born. Have you ever asked yourself why all newly born babies cry the first nights they are born? The child simply cries because it has sensed the problems that he is bound to face in the beautiful world. Denis lives with his uncle, aunt and grandmother in a village called Koch Goma which is about 15 km from Gulu Town. He was abducted sixteen years ago in 1996 at the age of 5 years from Layibi village in Gulu town where he lived with his uncle and grandmother. As a teenage child, Denis spent nine years in captivity before finally returning home in December 2005.
The day was long for the children that day because they had a lot of fun and games to play before the dark night God created for man to rest clocked. As usual, after a long day of games and fun, the children had to go to bed and rest. Denis being a child then went to his bed after his meal. His grandmother sung him a lullaby and he fell asleep. The people in that village believed that their ancestors always protected and alerted them either through a dream or in another way in case any bad omen was to befall them. But this time round, their ancestors kept silent and paid deaf ears to the people and failed to protect them.
The rebels came to the village at about 10:00 p.m. in the night, everyone around in their households was already asleep. Denis then was just a child and didn’t even know what was happening although he only remembers that some group of people came to their home and entered their house and took him out of the house. They then carried him and told Denis that they will help his parents to take good care of him plus the other boys. The rebels had abducted ten young boys who were of his age from the neighbourhood. On their journey to captivity, the rebels continued with abduction of young boys of his age, but because Denis was a very young child then, and he could neither remember nor trace the route they used to reach Sudan in order for him to find his way back home.
Being a young child, Denis was ignorant about the reasons behind the abduction. But later, as he spent more time in captivity, he got to interact with other soldiers in his group. He learnt that the rebels wanted young children with fresh, young brains that could easily be diverted for recruitment into the LRA. When Denis reached Sudan, the Commander, Tullu, who was the leader of the LRA group, Triangle, that abducted him, absorbed Denis to stay at his place simply because he was a young child and he basically took care of him as he was to grow up at his home.
While at the Commander´s home, Denis´s duty was to take care of his baby and play with his children then. But as he was growing up with a sense that he could then understand whatever was taking place around him, the Commander started by teaching Denis the different parts of the gun, and what it is used for. He would carry his commander´s gun each time he was going somewhere and that was at the age of 6. When Denis reached about 7 years, the commander then made him his escort and he started training and teaching him how to use a gun. After a short time when Denis finished his training, he started going with his boss, the Commander, for operations, as a child soldier, in the villages.
Life in captivity was not easy says Denis. He describes it as cruel, harsh with very cold, sad and sleepless nights. There, you have to move in the bushes for more than forty nights and days without a proper place to rest, eat or take a bath. In his description of life in captivity, Denis had this to say, ´´honestly I don’t remember the names of the different villages then, because I was young. And the reasons as to why we visited these villages was just to loot property like medicine, cloths and food stuff in order for us to survive´´. Denis’s rebel group was called “Triangle” and the Commander was called Tullo.
In all these movements, Denis and his group would move to different places, and where they found food stuff like cassava in the garden, they uprooted them for food, then camped in that particular place and cooked or boiled the cassava for food. After their meals, they spent the night in that very place and the next day continued with their journey.
As Denis wandered in the wilderness in captivity, his first movement and operation was the time they went to Atiak and massacred people in their quest and hunt for survival.
[Live Story adopted from The Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) Community Documentation Department, Uganda.]
According to Angucia, the life-threatening situation made the victims feel extremely insecure causing them to exhibit emotional states of anxiety, trauma and victimhood. These, they extended to new abductees. Peter Singer as cited in Tonheim (2010:65) illustrates the development of this state of mental being when he quotes a former child soldier he interviewed:
Testimonies from Former Child Soldiers (FCS)
“...It was in the middle of the night when they stormed our house. We were all in shock, we did not imagine the rebel leaders could reach this part of Uganda. In an effort to defend us from the attackers, my father was shot dead along with my elder brother. Quickly, I was separated from my mother and three sisters, tied down and taken away. That was the last time I saw my family.....”
At only nine years, Gonza had the first exposure to violence and lost his loved ones on the same night
“... I was lying almost numb in ambush watching kids my age being shot at and killed. The sight of blood and crying of people in pain, triggered something inside me that I did not understand, but it made me pass the point of compassion for others...”
Karwana (not his real name) narrating a story of his exposure in war in Uganda