Stigma and a lack of support are the main barriers faced by women and girls who leave the terrorist Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a new report says.
There are at least 400 armed soldiers in the LRA, according to figures from Human Rights Watch, and there are hundreds more who have been abducted by members and forced to fight. A third of them are under 18. And more than 25,000 children have been abducted by the LRA since 1986, the United Nations Children's Fund estimates.
After leaving the LRA, many former women and girl soldiers go back to their villages with children they have had forced on them by LRA commanders. Often blanked by their families and communities who call them 'bush women,' many have no choice but to leave their home and work as prostitutes or brew alcohol for survival money.
Margaret, 25, was abducted by rebels from her home when she was 11. One of her four children was fathered by a senior LRA commander. The hostility she faced from her former community when she returned meant she had to leave. “I am living here in Kasubi where I brew alcohol to raise money for food, rent and to treat the children if they fall sick,” she told the United Nations news service, IRIN. “I have nowhere I can turn for help. I made a mistake, I wouldn’t have escaped from the rebels if I had known this would be my life here. Life is difficult here, like in the bush.”
There is hardly any help for ex-women fighters like Margaret. A handful of rehab projects for them hand out basics, such as blankets, mattresses, cups and plates, without training and support, many find it hard to find a way of making a living.
The LRA has brought carnage across the central African region, having killed at least 2,385 people and abducted more than 3,054 more since September 2008, when peace talks fell apart, according to Human Rights Watch and the UN.
US backed Ugandan army operations against the LRA have failed to catch the rebel group's top leaders or end LRA attacks on ordinary people. “The Uganda army and its supporters appear to lack the capability, will, or expertise to apprehend the LRA's top leaders, even though they have come in close proximity to some senior commanders on several occasions in the past year,” the rights group said.