Symposium on Dominic Ongwen Case: Like A Wild Flower – Perspectives from the Lived Experience of a Child Born in Captivity

Symposium on Dominic Ongwen Case: Like A Wild Flower – Perspectives from the Lived Experience of a Child Born in Captivity

[Fatuma Abiya is a child born in captivity following the abduction of her mother by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Now a young adult, Fatuma is a Human Rights activist, a peace practitioner and law graduate who completed law school in 2023. She is a passionate advocate concerning issues impacting women, youth and children born of war.]


I was born in captivity to one of the young girls who was abducted by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) during their operation in Northern Uganda. Due to the circumstances of my birth, although I am a child born as a result of the LRA war, I describe myself as a child born in captivity. A child born in captivity is a child who is born to a mother who has been abducted and taken from her place of origin. A child born of war is one born to a mother from the attacked community but may have been fathered by soldiers or rebels during and after an armed conflict, but who was not born in captivity. I am also one of the leaders of the Children Born of War Movement which is a part of the Women Advocacy Network, a grassroots organisation started by my mother Evelyn Amony. 

The reparations decision handed down by judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the case of Dominic Ongwen means a lot to me personally because it has brought attention to the issue of children born of war. I am very grateful that through this decision, the world has finally gotten to know about children like us. The ruling provides the legal authority for us to speak about our issues. We now have an international case that we can refer to when we are advocating for recognition and reparations. 

Although the decision brings me hope, I am aware that everything the judges have stated will remain purely aspirational until the victims are granted reparations. It’s only then that the decision begins to materialize into reality. In this post, I will share my experiences as a child born in captivity and my perspectives on the Ongwen decision. I will also share general thoughts about some of the collective experiences of children born of war to foster a deeper understanding of our lived experiences.

My Lived Experience as a Child Born in Captivity

Being born in captivity is like a beautiful wild flower growing in the wilderness. Many things happen that appear to be normal to you as a child but they are actually not normal. Witnessing violence, experiencing loss, enduring lengthy journeys, hunger, and overall suffering were all part of our everyday existence, shaping our perception of what constituted normalcy. Unlike children abducted from their homes and thrust into war, those of us born in captivity never knew peace or a sense of normality. It was only through our mothers that we glimpsed the possibility of a different reality. My mother would tell me about a place called home, describing family members such as grandparents, aunts, and cousins. These stories painted a vivid picture in my mind, sparking a deep longing to experience that distant home.

As children in captivity, we suffered severe mental and physical trauma, and viewed things that children should never have to see. Constantly in flight when under attack, we were happy to survive but traumatised by the loss of those who did not make it and other terrible events that unfolded in captivity. Life in captivity was a matter of survival of the fittest; we longed for a place of hope, a place called home.

My mother and I along with several other former abductees and their children returned home in 2005. I was then about 7 years old. We all held onto hope that everything would be alright. However, the reality we faced was far from what we had imagined. Some mothers were shunned by their own families, forced to relocate and start afresh with little resources. Had our mothers not painted such a beautiful picture of home, perhaps the pain wouldn’t have been so intense.

Challenges Faced by Children Born of War

One of the biggest challenges that we faced when we returned, and still face, is stigma. It is ironic that people speak of the innocence of children but conveniently overlook it when it comes to children born of war. We understand that many horrible things happened to people who were not abducted, but I wish that they could treat us with a little empathy, understanding that we were just children.  

Children born of war live in a world of segregation- from the community and even at school for the few that got the chance to go to school. Although I was able to go to school, it was not always easy. For me and many others, we were shunned by other children who did not want to sit with us on the same desk. We often played alone and if we were playing with a neighbour’s child, the mother would come and take him away. We were seen as evil, and society distanced themselves from us. We experienced name-calling and finger-pointing very similar to someone suffering HIV-AIDS, but with a different level of trauma. As children we longed for peace and acceptance within our homes and communities. 

One of the persistent challenges we face is lack of identity in every sense of the word. In Uganda’s patriarchal society, not having knowledge of one’s father or his ethnic group results in a lack of belonging and can hinder access to land and education. To obtain a national identity card a birth certificate is required. Many children born of war don’t have the identity documents and are deprived of essential rights and opportunities. It is difficult to imagine that the laws of Uganda have not created an exception for children born in circumstances of sexual and gender-based violence, where the paternity of the child is not known.

The absence of land has contributed to poverty experienced by children born in captivity which has, in turn, increased their vulnerability to abuse. Many children in this situation live with several siblings and their mother in one room. Where the mother has found a new partner, the children are often also sexually abused, perpetuating the cycle of abuse. In addition, most of these children have not been educated. Their mothers were abducted while they were in early primary schools, most of their children with whom they returned from captivity have not been given the opportunity to study, hence they remain uneducated and live in abject poverty. History repeats itself and perpetuates a legacy of continuous poverty. That is a common thing among the victims. 

In addition, there is a distinction between girls and boys born of war. We both go through the similar challenge of being born as a result of the war, but there are some things only girls go through. We handle trauma differently, and biologically and emotionally we are different. For example, girls are more vulnerable to incidents of sexual and gender-based violence including early marriage. Disabled children experience even greater levels of hardship and trauma because of the intersecting harms they suffer. They are stigmatised for being a child born of war as well as disabled, hence they are considered to be useless. 

Perspective on the Ongwen Reparations Decision

While I am happy about the Dominic Ongwen ruling, I feel that victims will only truly receive justice when they can tangibly live and feel it through reparations. Regarding collective reparations for children born of war, the Court should consider implementing initiatives like scholarships or providing insurance policies for proper medical care. Many mothers and their children returned from captivity with untreated bullet wounds or disabilities, still enduring pain to this day. Some children suffered burns while in captivity. To make reparations truly effective, extensive efforts are required, as victims continue to grapple with trauma and require psychosocial support to heal.

In terms of the monetary amount that the Court has assessed for reparations, it’s important to acknowledge that there are many victims, and no sum of money can fully erase the suffering they endured. Proper management in the use of the funds will be crucial. For instance, setting up medical facilities would benefit numerous victims. While individualized payments could be beneficial, providing reparations solely to certain groups while excluding others would be very painful for those left out. Collective reparations have to be inclusive and everyone who is affected should benefit equally.

Favoring specific groups of victims over others seems like segregation and implies that some have suffered more, simply because certain perpetrators haven’t faced justice. While it is important to respect legal guidelines, giving priority to the desires of the affected individuals is essential for achieving true justice. Failure to address our needs would undermine the intended goals of the law.

The Role of the Ugandan Government in Reparations

Ultimately, the responsibility for reparations lies with the government of Uganda. It is unfortunate that an international body had to come in because our government has failed. This is the government’s role and they should have fulfilled it a long time ago. The challenge in Uganda is that there are serious concerns about potential mismanagement and corruption when it comes to handling reparations, so many have lost hope. However, the remaining victims should be catered for by the government of Uganda. We cannot wait until all the perpetrators are captured. Some of the victims are dying and they may never see the victory that they continue to fight for. 

The government needs to turn the Transitional Justice (TJ) Policy into law. It is from the TJ Policy turned law, that we will have the authority to speak and to advocate for change. The only authority we have right now is the ICC ruling. Through this ruling the government of Uganda is now mandated to address the challenges faced by children born of war. The government should acknowledge their existence and the unique challenges they face, ensuring their experiences are recognized as valid within the context of conflict-related injustices. More importantly, it is time to change the law and develop legal frameworks that specifically address the rights and needs of children born of war, including the right to an identity.


Children born of war have suffered in silence and have been invisible for a long time. Some have only recently discovered the circumstances of their birth and coping with the mental trauma of lack of identity and rejection has not been easy. It is time for us to have access to and enjoy all the rights that other Ugandan citizens take for granted. Recognition of our situation is the first step. For us, it is also important to be part of the process of change. Children born of war are like raw materials, their origin may be dirty but very good commodities can come out of them.

Thank you.

Photo attribution: “pink grasses” by Lauren Parnell Marino is licenced under CC BY-NC 2.0

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Africa, Featured, General, International Criminal Law, Symposia, Themes
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