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This book is a product of a research project called ‘voices of youth’ carried out - page 83 / 125





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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

rejected as dangerous criminals or exploited for their demobilisation packages. While in the armed movements, they were to some extent protected from sexual abuse from fellow soldiers by a strict military code. Most girl ex-fighters (i.e. those who carried arms) have gone through the official demobilisation process, returning home with a demobilisation package and without the stigma of pregnancy. Girls who had been abducted into rebel militia, on the other hand, were made to undertake a range of menial tasks, including providing sexual services. On their return home (generally directly to their homes and without any of the benefits of demobilisation) they and their children are often rejected and excluded, in similar ways to those described for Uganda. A third category of girls were neither enlisted nor abducted, but were forced into sexual relations through poverty, manipulation and the threat of force, by soldiers billeted nearby or by local men. Many men believe that having sexual relations with children cures AIDS and enables men to regain their youth.

The consequences of violence, rejection and extreme poverty are extremely serious. Few girls who have been through violent experiences are able to go back to school, and few projects exist for vocational training. Sexual abuse brings with it a variety of health problems, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as psycho-social traumas. Rejected by their families, and often with their own children to support, many are obliged to move to towns to seek petty employment, while some drift into prostitution and crime. Many girls in this position fall into resignation and depression, losing self-respect and isolating themselves from society. Families and communities feel the impact of this crisis too, as families are torn apart and communities struggle to come to terms with increasingly destitute and delinquent youth.

Young people and violent conflict In Burundi and Uganda the crisis of youth affected by violent conflict is a serious one. Youth are caught in a vicious circle – they are denigrated, exploited and manipulated, they suffer both directly and indirectly from the violence of war, and to the extent that they respond in ways that put them at odds with adult society, adults then blame them for misbehaviour. The adults described by interviewees appear to infantilise youth: their rhetoric is one of offering protection, while the reality is that youth are exploited and deprived of their rights to jobs, health, family life, education, and property.

Respondents in this project are relatively well cared for compared to others in similar situations, since almost all the interviewees were contacted through projects or associations providing some degree of support. Most say that these projects make a critical difference to their ability to confront their futures, and urge that more such opportunities be made available for others in the same situation. Why, then,

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