A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
homes after the end of the war. Once home, some received information and then went to sign up as child soldiers. But by that stage it was often difficult for them to persuade officials to take them seriously, unless a neighbour or some other credible person could plead their case. Those who had been abducted, or who had not had the status of fighters, were not offered any choice but to return home. Some had contracted common law marriages with other combatants, but these tended to separate after the war was over, the man going to the assembly centres and the woman or girl going home. Some of the girls managed to get back together with their spouses, but many never heard from them again.
Some illustrations from the testimonies
‘We got to the assembly camps. Me, I was in Karindo assembly zone, here in Ruyigi Province. I was asked my age, and I replied that I was 16. I was put on the list of under-18s. These had to go home, while those who had reached the age of majority stayed in the assembly zones so as to be eventually demobilised or integrated into the regular army. After that, we were taken to Ruyigi where a very warm welcome awaited us. And then we were each taken back to the hills that we came from.’
‘When it was known that negotiations had started, one of my friends told me that we had to go home. When we arrived at the house, the neighbours went and called the (army) soldiers, telling them that some child assailants had come, surely with the intention of continuing to inform on them. So the soldiers took us to their base. We told them we had fled from the rebellion. They kept us there to watch us, to make sure we wouldn’t return to the rebels and tell them what we had seen. They kept us there for a month and a half, then they let us go home. We went home, and after that the other children started to go home too.’
2.4 How did the families respond?
Girls who had been in the armed movements and who had gone home with no illegitimate children were treated with compassion and support by members of their families. The few problems they mentioned were linked to the fact that some had lost one or all of their family members in the mean time, and were not well treated by the families who took them in, who sometimes tried to get their hands on the girls’ demobilisation packages. Rose, for example (see selected testimonies in section 3 below), had to fend off her mother’s new husband, who tried to channel her allowance exclusively to his own family.
As sexual violence was a corollary to all other forms of violence suffered by the girls, many of the victims had given birth to, or were expecting, illegitimate children. In Burundian society, a girl is expected to be a virgin until her marriage, and becoming