PATIENCE Ayecan runs into the house, and returns with a pink teddy bear. â€œAuntie, I have a new baby.
Auntie, when you come back, bring a big cake for my birthday,â€ Patience chatters.
Patience is an outgoing little girl, with a radiant smile.
On this Tuesday afternoon, together with my friends, we took her for ice cream. My friends fell in love with this five-year-old girl, before they discovered her paternity.
As soon as I told them she was Joseph Konyâ€™s daughter, their excitement turned into pity.
They started looking for any sign that could point to her being the daughter of a man wanted by the International Criminal Court. â€œItâ€™s like you expect to see criminality written all over the child,â€ said Esther Pamara, a mother of two.
In a mini-survey done by Saturday Vision, many admitted they would associate the children with their fatherâ€™s actions. They said they would not cuddle a child born to a rebel commander.
In the 20-year insurgency in northern Uganda, Konyâ€™s Lordâ€™s Resistance Army (LRA) have abducted about 25,000 children, who he has turned into sex slaves and rebels. Kony is thought to have had more than 70 sex slaves whom he called wives.
Return to community
According to authorities in northern Uganda, many of the children sired by the rebels have returned home with their mothers.
Questions abound about what the future holds for these children. Most of their mothers are uneducated and do not have any income-generating projects.
Child psychologist Deo Yiga advises that these children need stable homes. However, this is difficult as some people have rejected the children.
Evelyn Amony, who lives in Gulu, had three children with Kony. She counted 26 others who were forced to be Konyâ€™s wives.
All together, they have mothered children numbering over 100.
Gulu resident district commissioner Col. Walter Ochora also estimates that about 100 of Konyâ€™s children are living in the Acholi community.
Seventeen-year-old Victoria cradled her 20-month-old child as she recalled her forced â€œmarriageâ€ to an LRA commander. â€œThey put a gun to my head to marry him,â€ she says.
Now the community scorns Victoria and other former abductees by calling them â€œKonyâ€™s wives,â€ â€œKonyâ€™s childrenâ€, â€œchildren of the bush,â€ that remind them of the trauma of being abducted and turned into sex slaves. Others have been told: â€œYou children from the bush, we are tired of you.â€
According to child psychologists, these children risk developing anti-social behaviour if their physical and emotional needs are not met. Yiga, says the children born in captivity have been affected by the violent environment there.
He says these children, could reform if taken out of the environment that is full of violence. However, Yiga cautions: â€œThere is a risk that for those who have grown up in the bush, violence has almost become normal. It is going to be difficult to change.â€
Although accepted by their peers, these children are yet to be accepted by the adults. Guardians to Konyâ€™s children say the community judges them harshly for atrocities committed by the LRA. They make statements like, â€œThey killed our children and theirs are here playingâ€.
According to the research officer, Beyond Juba Project, Moses Okello, Konyâ€™s children suffer undue pressure. â€œThe media gives [their escape] undue coverage and due to this, the community easily identifies them,â€ says Okello.
Some are stigmatised and find it difficult to be re-integrated into the community.
Okello observes that for those who are taken into religious structures, religious values displace the military ideals but once they return to the community and mingle with other former abductees, the military values rebound.
Gulu district LC5 chairman Norbert Mao points out that the development of these children will depend on how their psycho-social needs are met. â€œThe first thing is for the society to give them a chance to be children.
â€œWe have to establish strong institutions and replace guns with toys and books,â€ Mao says.
Gulu is working with the Kampala Pentecostal Church Watoto Child care programme to attain this goal.
The district has also embarked on sensitising the community about the emotional needs of the children.
Rehabilitation centres like Laro Child Development Centre is educating the children. While there are no simple solutions, concerted efforts will definitely make a difference.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRIS OCOWUN
Over 100 children born to Kony