At age eleven Evelyn Amony was kidnapped and conscripted into the Lords’ Resistance Army as a child soldier. At age fourteen, she became a child bride to Joseph Rao Kony, leader of the Uganda’s Lord's Resistance Army. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), also known as the Lord's Resistance Movement, is a rebel group which operates in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The LRA which was originally known as the United Holy Salvation Army and Uganda Christian Army/Movement is led by a former Catholic Alter Boy and self-declared prophet, Joseph Kony. The LRA has been accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, child-sex slavery, and conscripting children into violent conflicts.
Evelyn Amony was kidnapped in her school uniform by the LRA in 1994 on her way home from school. After her kidnap, she and other girls who were also kidnapped on the way were taken to South Sudan by foot, where she eventually commenced her life as a child soldier and child bride for eleven years. Evelyn Amony spoke with Sunny Dada in Gulu Town, Northern Uganda, during a field visit organized by the Rotary Peace Centre, Makerere University. Below is the excerpt of her story:
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
“My name is Evelyn Amony. I was abducted in 1994 on my way from school. When they abducted me, they asked me to show them the road that leads to Kampala. I showed them the road by pointing at the buses going to Kampala. They thought I was joking when I did that, so they beat me up and moved me forcefully to join them in the bush. We walked through the bush path until we got to a place called ‘Kilak’ in Sudan. When we arrived, they removed my shoes and made me to work bare footed which was very traumatic for me."
"Life in South Sudan was very difficult due to the presence of many rebel groups. To get food was very difficult until the Arabs started supplying the LRA food and drugs. I couldn’t adapt because the type of food they served was very strange to me. Each time I ate the food, I urinated blood. Then they started training us as soldiers including other girls that were already with them. They kept telling us that we were soldiers and that the only way we could survive and defend ourselves was to learn how to shoot and kill our enemies.
MY ESCAPE FROM THE LRA CAMP
“I escaped from the LRA Camp in 2004. I remember I was in the garden on that faithful day when the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) and Sudanese Soldiers attacked our camp. During the attack, the LRA faction that had me escaped to Palave in Uganda. However in Palave, they were also ambushed by the UPDF. The attack caused so much confusion within the LRA camp and provided me the opportunity to escape with my new born baby. I was just a five day old nursing mother when I escaped from them. I was later rescued by the UPDF and was immediately taken to the barracks in Kimanave in Palave. From Palave, I was later taken to another barrack in Kampala by an Helicopter. When I escaped, I escaped with three children but one of my girls who was four years old, got lost in the bush. I suspect that she was stolen by the UPDF because after the camp was invaded by the allied forces, I quickly ran back to the camp to pick her because others were with me in the garden. When we arrived the camp, we found lifeless bodies of little children but I didn’t see the body of my daughter. This was before we escaped to Palave. We walked through the bush path until we got to a place called ‘Kilak’ in Sudan."
"When I was brought to the 4th Division barracks in Kampala, I was in a very bad shape; blood was dripping all over my body and there were no clothes and neither were there medication. I also did not had any hot water as a nursing mother. I was later taken to the 4th division medical facility on the same day. The next day I was taken to Gusco in Gulu Town for rehabilitation. From the rehabilitation centre I was later taken to another hospital before my eventual release by the UPDF."
RECEPTION BACK HOME
"The reception in my district is not something we should talk about because it still makes me feel bad. I was rejected and stigmatized in the district. This is understandable because the LRA committed massacre in the district; they slaughtered over 300 people there and the people are still mourning. So when I returned, they saw me as an LRA rebel that should be killed."
RECEPTION BY FAMILY
"My family also rejected me. I was not the only one rejected, other LRA girls were also rejected by their families, in fact we were disowned. At a point when I couldn’t withstand the stigmatization by my own family, I and other child soldiers decided to move to Gulu, to this compound. Gulu is very important to me because this was where I was eventually received by a woman who donated this place to us to stay. It was in Gulu we later formed the Women Advocacy Network (WAN) because we needed a platform to tell own story and create our own resilience."
MESSAGE TO THE WORLD
"We formed WAN to tell the world that children and women suffer the most in times of war. Our wish is that we should be the last victims of war and let the world unite to end violent conflict. Conflict also affect the normal life of a girl child the more especially in the area of emotional life. Conflict makes the girl child not to have any affection for her male counterpart."
CONTINUOS PAIN AND STIGMATIZATION
"Bullets have become part of our bodies because a lot of us still have bullets in us. This is because for 22 years now we still cannot access medical care. We are left to our faith by those who should’ve helped us. I became a mother at a very young age, against my will. I succumbed to the rapes because I was afraid of being killed. When we returned from captivity, we were denied jobs and opportunities. Survival was tough so we resorted to making crafts to survive. A lot of us cannot also communicate in English because we lack education; we were kidnapped while still in primary school.
“It is also difficult to have husbands because men despise us when they discover that we are former abductees. They often describe us as rebels. In some instances even when we are lucky to marry, we are married as co-wives. The men often think that marrying us co-wives is a favour. Being married as a co-wife comes with several challenges, for instance; as a co-wife, we are not permitted to disagree or speak up for our rights when offended or denied certain benefits by our husbands and other wives. If we speak up, we are often stereotyped as rebels and blackmailed to shut up with the threat of being thrown out of the marriage.
“When I decided to publish my book, I called it ‘I’m Evelyn Amony: Reclaiming My Life from the Lord's Resistance Army (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0299304949/ref=cm_sw_r_wa_awdb_imm_R8BTJEKT93R...).’ I decided to give it that title because in the LRA camp I changed my name to ‘Atto Bethy.’ I adopted Atto Bethy to protect my family because if you escape from the rebels, the LRA may trace you to your family and kill all of you.”
When asked if she can remember the LRA General that adopted her as a child bride, she responded: “Joseph Kony is the father of my children. I became his wife when I was 14 years old while still in the LRA camp.”
The Women Advocacy Network which is made up of former LRA girl child soldiers, has since evolved into 22 sub-gender groups with the key objective to enhance the well-being of former LRA girl child soldiers through skills empowerment and sustainable livelihood. Apart from the stigmatization they face from society, they also suffer from trauma and medical related conditions as a result of gun-shot wounds and sexual gender based violence (SGBV) while in the LRA camps. Some still carry live bullets in their bodies which makes it difficult for conception. They also face challenges such as lack of accommodation and employment opportunities.