Dr. Eunice Akullo contributes a guest piece based on her research which focuses on reintegration for Children Born of War in Northern Uganda.
Picture by Roland Tiberusya
There are various analytical and empirical studies that have been done around Children born in captivity. My research, as part of my PhD thesis submitted to the University of Southampton, contributes to existing works by suggesting a tripartite approach to addressing stigma and discrimination. The approach is summarized under the "vital core" concept of human security. While acknowledging the debates around the concept of human security, the research is based on the broad understanding of human security as a people-centred approach. This includes ensuring that people are part of the efforts aimed at ensuring that their needs are met (freedom from want) and they are protected from harm (freedom from fear). Sen's (2000) description of human security is to protect all humans from critical pervasive threats and safeguard their vital core.
Alkire (2003) notes the complexity in seeking to protect all aspects of life but argues for the need to ensure that the vital components of dignity, livelihoods and survival are guaranteed. These components are an important part of the Paris Principles and Guidelines (2007) relevant for structuring practices that guarantee reintegration. Thus for children born to former child soldiers, they are considered beneficiaries of programs and efforts that enable their parents' reintegration. There are several narratives around children born in captivity, within academic fora and works by practitioners. These works indicate that the integration of children born in captivity is affected by experiences of stigma and discrimination. They reside among regions affected by war like in Lango, Teso and Acholi. Research on these children has suggested various solutions to their plight. Some of the solutions include advocacy for their rights, and the need for cultural and religious leaders to engage in addressing stigma and discrimination. There have already been efforts including interventions by reception centres and other local CBOs and NGOs such as FAPAD and the Concerned Parents Association in Lango. More initiatives working in this direction include Acholi Education Initiative, JRP, I Live Again, as well as networks such as Watye Ki Gen in Acholi. In Teso, similar efforts have been noticed with Obalanga Human Rights Health Care Association and Musa Vocational School.
While such efforts can't be overlooked, the thesis argues for a need to distinguish between integration (moving to a new environment) and reintegration (returning to an environment that one was previously part of). Hence, efforts targeting children of former child soldiers should focus on them as distinct subjects rather than appendages of their mother's experiences. One of the respondents from Acholi explained how targeting these children through their mothers alone may not necessarily lead to a trickle down of such assistance to children born in captivity.
There was no direct assistance to the children...the mothers are getting this assistance but with the assumption that these children are going to benefit. When these mothers get assistance, it is the time men get attracted to them. When the men get attracted to them, they elope with these men. Then few weeks after, the men drop them. They give them a condition that you either stay with me or take your child. So women are forced to take the child to their mothers. If you draw a link, the grandmother did not receive anything. She went straight to this man with the assistance that was given to her. Then the grandmother will begin gambling and complaining that the she did not receive any of the items. The result is that the stigma then comes to the child. She shall refer to the child as “this bastard” and tell him or her “I wish you were dead”.
The thesis acknowledges the importance of protecting assistance through mothers. This is because many of the children are under the care of their mothers. Nonetheless, specific support should be given to these children. This may target needs like their healthcare, education and nutrition needs. In addition, when the children grow to become young adults, they can get direct assistance.
The findings from my research indicate some of the ways in which stigma and discrimination can be addressed while directly targeting the children born in captivity. Hence, the three-parts approach would contribute to efforts that seek better integration as explained in the next section.
Ensuring Dignity through respect
I base my understanding of dignity as a guarantee that is linked to human rights. All humans, regardless of their social status ought to be treated with dignity. This therefore requires efforts that counter discrimination from stigma. Stigma in the study manifested as name-calling, negative stereotypes, exclusion and isolation because of the child's identity.
Ensuring dignity requires interventions at family, community (social and cultural) and national (legal and advocacy) levels. Such interventions need to target disrespectful ideologies and practices.
Boosting livelihoods through education support and availing resources such as land provide a means through which these children can earn a living. Given the culturally grounded nature of discrimination of these children, provision of land by other actors other than the clan is needed. In addition, having an education provides a possible means through which these children can earn a living and buy their own land.
In one of my conversations after an interview, a formerly abducted person who is now employed as a secondary school teacher claimed that having a livelihood reduces stigma because society does not look down on people who are self-sufficient.
Boosting Survival through love
The first source of such love is in primary relationships at family level and through friendship. This boosts the self-esteem of the recipient and provides a conducive environment within which one can survive. A basic understanding of survival involves being able to live despite a negative incidence or experience.
A respondent from Lango explained the importance of love towards children born in captivity as follows:
If you feel accepted, that is where you breed and suck the blood of love - the parental love, because government cannot provide love... We get our love, we get our belonging, we get our identity from a family source even if you are just adopted.
The three parts are mutually enforcing of each other. For instance, respect and love provide a good foundation for livelihoods and dignity. Other works like Atim et al (2018) indicate that having a livelihood contributes not only to one's self worth, but their appreciation, recognition and respect in society as persons who contribute to the general good.
It’s important to emphasize the need to ensure survival, dignity and livelihoods for mothers of these children. This is because many of them live with their mothers. Also, the same tripartite approach is required for those in extended families, foster families and in institutional care.
One of the lessons learned is the possibility of expanding this tripartite approach analytically developed from qualitative research to assess the integration of children born in captivity using quantitative research methods such as surveys or longitudinal studies. The findings would contribute to developing an alternative approach to integration of this category of CHIBOW both as an academic analytical framework and a vital framework for practitioners enabling integration.