"Bush Wives"

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Female abductees were forced not only to fight but also cook, carry supplies, and act as servants to commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Many young women were also forced to serve as “wives” to male soldiers, and were routinely subjected to rape, sexual slavery, unwanted pregnancy, indentured servitude, and/or torture under the guise of “marriage.” Top commanders of the LRA, such as rebel leader Joseph Kony, was purported to have “wed” anywhere from 40 to 80 “wives.” More than half of these “wives” bore children while in captivity. As one survivor describes, unmarried girls were treated like a “public socket” for anyone to use.

Those who returned home were often ostracized by their families and communities for participating in the armed conflict and killing kin. Female members of the LRA were further stigmatized for having children out of traditional wedlock; consequently they often encountered additional difficulty accessing arable land and securing a livelihood. Some women attempted to cope with their financial hardship by entering into economic arrangements with their former abusers or abandoning their children.

“Bush Wives” in captivity:

  • Nearly 66,000 youths between the ages of 14-30 have been abducted in Uganda. An estimated 1 out of 5 girls in Uganda have been abducted by the LRA.
  • Nearly a half of LRA commanders had five or more forced "wives," with lower level fighters averaging two forced "wives."
  • 93.5% of forced "wives" said they were sexually abused during their time in the bush. (This number is likely to be higher but victims underreport because of the stigma attached to sexual violence.) (Source: http://www.yale.edu/macmillan/ocvprogram/papers/Women@War.Apr2009.pdf)

“Bush Wives” returning:

  • Fewer than 1% of females who are sexually assaulted access help from NGOs, government agencies or community organizations.
  • Because of entrenched gender roles, former "bush wives" are left with few employment opportunities.
  • Escaped male child-soldiers are given access to education and vocational training at a much higher rate than females.
  • Unlike male child-soldiers, females often come back with children and thus are unable to continue their school and rarely catch up to non-abducted females.
  • 85% of "bush wives" return with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS
  • Often these women and girls are accused of being rebels themselves. Children born in the bush are often ostracized and shunned by the community.

Statistics from Annan et al., The State of Female Youth in Uganda: Findings from the Survey of War-Affected Youth Phase II (April 2008) unless otherwise noted.