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This book is a product of a research project called ‘voices of youth’ carried out - page 70 / 125

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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

In the bush, the girls were given to a man by the LRA leadership and were not in a position to ask him about his origin. On their return, the child mothers try to trace the families of their husbands but encounter much difficulty in doing so.

The consequences for the children born of such liaisons are extremely serious. The community sees them as rebels, to be mistrusted and chastised. This is partly because they often behave in ways that are “strange” to people who stayed at home and have no experience of war or life in the bush. However, it is also a result of the various prejudices (outlined above), against the young mothers, which are then extended to their children. Children of child mothers, especially those who were abducted and lived in the bush, are socially isolated by their families and peers. No-one wants to take responsibility for them, and they are looked upon as a burden. In many cases they are deprived of love, attention, food, schooling and medical care, and their future prospects are dim. As Doreen says: ‘I really feel I need someone to help my child. For me, at least I have the group to turn to.’ There is no structure or system put in place by the government to look into the issue of children born in captivity.

2.4. How the child mothers respond to their situation

The consequences of the experiences of child mothers are very damaging. They carry physical scars, but they also carry psychological scars both from the violence that was committed against them and from the injustice of the treatment meted out to them on their return. These psychological scars affect their relationships with partners and potential partners, since the experience of rape and forced sexual relationships over a long period make it difficult for the girls to sustain loving relationships with other men. This also affects their relationships with other girls of the same age, since the experience of being sexually active and having children sets them apart from other girls their age, and they find they have little in common with them. The community views them as having already become women in the social sense, even though they are physically still children. Moreover, child mothers tend to suffer from low self-esteem, and this results in social exclusion and isolation.

Girls carry the heavy burden of looking after children prematurely. For most child mothers, meeting their immediate needs for food, shelter and health care is a struggle, even for those fortunate enough to be living with their parents or husbands. However, some are completely on their own and with no other means of supporting themselves, many are forced to turn to sex work, making them psychologically, socially and economically even more vulnerable and even more stigmatised and isolated.

Despite these constraints, many child mothers show considerable resilience. For

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