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Community values and organizing are responsible for the successful reintegration of child soldiers after Mozambique’s long and abysmal war. Reintegration programs, however, have failed to recognize the plight of girls and women who have suffered alongside boys and men. Many females were enslaved and treated as concubines only to be abandoned or never again heard from at demobilization. The author brings to light this neglected issue and asks whether policies that fail to recognize the plight of war-affected women can be called ‘humanitarian’. (dkc)

vol 13 no 2

Mozambique: Soldiers of misfortune
Carol Thompson

Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 13 No 2, March 1998
Page 22



Carol Thompson is Chair of the Department of Political Science at Northern Arizona University.

The conditions match any of the most terrifying and depraved suffered by past generations afflicted by war. Yet the victims are not only soldiers. At the beginning of this century, 90 percent of war casualties were military; today about 90 percent are civilian. Yet even this sobering UNDP (1994) figure does not name the problem, for the term `civilian' obfuscates the vulnerability and innocence of child victims. The conditions for children who are forced to bear arms erase the traditional analytical categories of military, civilian and child. An estimated 250,000 children under 18, some as young as five years old, are currently serving in 33 wars around the world right now.

The first question is why children face this new technique of abuse. The military answer is easy: in the last 20 years, modern technology has provided weapons which weigh less than seven pounds, cost about $6 (or the price of a chicken in Africa), and can be stripped, reassembled, loaded and fired by an illiterate child of 10. Children have been used as cannon fodder, advanced as the first wave of infantry-style assaults with the purpose of inhibiting the enemy, who may be reluctant to fire at children. The social, political and economic answers are more difficult.

The second question asks why Mozambicans have been relatively successful in reintegrating boy soldiers and other children traumatized, exploited and displaced by war. It is Community values and community organizing that are reintegrating Mozambican children, not the formal institutions of the state, nor of opposition parties, nor of the economy.

The third question poses a challenge, `Where are the girls?'

Boy Soldiers and Girl Concubines

The origins of Renamo (Mozambique National Resistance) are well documented and only need brief reference here to remind us of the history, which forms the background for the use of child soldiers.

Documentation over more than a decade concludes that Renamo systematically kidnapped and forcibly recruited boys to train as soldiers; girls became personal servants, which included providing sexual services, with some remaining with one man or boy for years, later to be designated as `wife.' Documentation also shows that the government of Mozambique forcibly conscripted some unemployed urban youth (14 - 16 years). Yet international agencies conclude that the use of boy soldiers for transport of goods and for armed combat was overwhelmingly Renamo, not government, practice.

According to agencies working in Mozambique, such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Criancas e Familias Desenvolvimento, recruitment of children is considered desirable for several reasons. First, children have high energy levels. Second, they are more susceptible to propaganda and therefore, more readily obey. Third, their moral values are still in formation so they can, more easily than an adult, suspend moral judgments. Right becomes one with obedience: according to UNICEF, commanders say child soldiers are "more obedient, do not question orders and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers." Fourth, with fewer skills and less knowledge about the area, they are less likely to escape successfully. Finally, they don't demand pay.

Complete obedience was required, to the extent that the boys depended on their commanders for any decision such as when to eat, bathe and sleep. Rewards included some use of drugs and being given a girl as a `wife.' Sometimes the relationship was a few hours, sometimes more permanent. Practices varied. In the South, only commanders were allowed to bring women into temporary bases, the rest `attaching themselves' to the civilian population. In the North, large bases included more girls.

Much has been made of the idea that Renamo used different tactics in different parts of the country, for example, raping women less frequently in northern Mozambique than in southern. While not questioning that military tactics required different approaches in `zones of control' vs. territory through which Renamo passed, the destruction, brutality and rape were systematic policies of Renamo.

A UNICEF survey (1990) suggests the degree of brutality against women even in areas where Renamo was interested in instilling allegiance among the population. Ivelte Jeichande interviewed 132 `mulheres dislocadas' (women captured by Renamo) in Maputo province, 83 in Zambezia and 76 in Inhambane. Their period of captivity ranged from a few days to over three years; some were moved to as many as six different locations in three years, and over 50% from all three provinces attempted to escape more than once. Of those from Maputo province, 67.5% had experienced death of family members, 63.9% in Zambezia and 77.6% in Inhambane. Some were forced to have sex with their own children, "one of the most serious trauma produced by the armed bandits on Mozambican society." In Zambezia, 44.6% reported being tortured, 18.4% in Inhambane.

Kenneth Wilson summarizes Renamo's exploitation of women as more than a tactic of war: "Rape and the use of slave-wives is rather seen by Renamo soldiers as their right of access to women, and a key `perk' of the job, not a direct tactic of war ... Renamo commanders repeatedly stress their special rights to women and girls, along with the status and prowess that this confers upon them as men of power relative to the Renamo rank and file ... The almost ritualized allocation of women to Renamo soldiers after their initiation has also been reported ..."

The leadership of Renamo consistently denied they were even using boy soldiers, let alone forcefully recruiting girl concubines. In February 1994, however, Renamo agreed with Unicef to transfer child soldiers to non-military transit centres, which took almost a year to accomplish. The very first soldier demobilized under UN auspices, with the leader of Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, in attendance, submitted his gun and then told the press he was 16 years old, was kidnapped in Gaza at the age of 9 and had been fighting ever since.

Reintegration and Cultural Affirmation

Renamo succeeded in destroying people, physically or emotionally, by requiring their violation of cultural norms. Yet it is these very norms, resilient and adaptable to new demands, which have promoted and nurtured reintegration of traumatized children. From 1987 when the first boy soldiers returned from Renamo territory, Mozambicans decided that Western individualistic psychology had only limited insight to offer for healing. In 1983 and 1984, modern techniques were employed in centres, along side traditional ones, with the traditional proving itself to be more effective. At certain stages, psychologists have been involved to classify the degree of trauma, but healing has not occurred through psychoanalysis.

This local policy has now been verified cross-nationally in six regions (Europe, West and Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Asia and Pacific, and Latin America) by the 1996 UN study on the impact of war on children. A combination of approaches is best, with `normalcy' and engaging in community life essential for healing: "Psychotherapeutic approaches based on western mental health traditions tend to emphasize individual emotional expression ... In-depth clinical interviews intended to awaken the memories and feelings associated with a child's worst moments risk leaving the child in more severe pain and agitation than before. ... Rather than focusing on a child's emotional wounds, programs should aim to support healing processes and to re-establish a sense of normalcy ... including community life."

Thus, from the mid-1980s, Mozambican policy has centred on the community. First, to give material assistance to vulnerable families so they could sustain their children and second, to reunite children with families as quickly as possible.

Folk healers provide psychosocial intervention which builds on the strengths of families, rather than on the concept of pathology. Whole families were affected by the war, with adults feeling guilty for not protecting the child who was captured.

Traditional purification ceremonies which isolate the returned child for a few days are used to reestablish communication with the ancestors. Herbs are used to cleanse, both internally and externally. Harmful spirits are exorcised. The child discards his/her identity and is `reborn' as a different person. Further, ceremonies call on the ancestral spirits, who are all-knowing; no one can hide what s/he did, what atrocities committed. Reconnection with the ancestors is the first acceptance back into the community. Thus, the child is absolved of the behaviour of the previous, discarded identity.

Children emerging from purification have been able to recount their experiences, considered by Western psychology as basic to the healing process. In contrast, many of those treated by Western psychoanalysis were never able to recount their stories.

To give one concrete example, in Xai Xai a family decided a daughter could move in only after a house purification ceremony was held. That ceremony is normally held only when a member of the family has died. She was kidnapped when only 11 and forced to serve as a soldier's wife; she became pregnant but the child was still born. After the ceremonies, her family accepted her as a `new' daughter, totally different from the one who left.

Location and Reunification

The second program of tracing children who had been captured or lost during the long war was only partially successful in its efforts to recover both the boy soldiers and the girl (now women) concubines. As Mozambican volunteers, male and female, organized via their traditional networks, in coordination with the NGOs, the success rate of locating the boys became very high.

Community groups were formed of 20 - 30 people. In the cities and at centres, posters were made of about 21 children's pictures per poster. Mass meetings were held in villages where details of the child were given, such as the surname, name of grandfather, village names, places named after events - any detail the child could remember. Quickly, the word would spread among chiefs, traditional healers, traders, and travellers - which led to locating relatives. The UNDP now estimates that 95 percent of the estimated 250,000 affected boys have been reunited with a family member.

However, neither demobilization nor tracing seems to have occurred for the girls, now women, who were forced sexual partners, some now with their own children. There is no data about how many were `linked to' soldiers, how many went home with them during demobilization to their districts, how many were simply abandoned. The UNDP reports Renamo soldiers boarding the vans to return to their home districts, simply leaving the women standing in the road. Women's welfare organizations also reported women and their children being dumped or in other cases being forced to accompany the man. During the exercise to return the demobilized soldiers to their home districts, women were seen trying to get out of the vehicles, screaming, "I want to go to my home!" About 91,000 male soldiers were demobilized, from both sides. How many women were abandoned? How many were coerced into remaining concubines?

It is quite astonishing that Mozambican girls and women still accompanying soldiers at the time of demobilization in 1994 were not counted, nor cared for. It appears that no one among either the international or national agencies knows exactly what happened to them. They and their scars remain invisible.

This finding (or non-finding) is not extraordinary for Mozambique, however. The international agencies conducting campaigns to censor the use of boy soldiers have not raised the issue of the girls `given' to the boys as a reward, although the practice appears to occur in every conflict where there are boy soldiers. Can policies that ignore such a social group claim to be `humanitarian?'

Tasks Ahead

The economic prerequisites for reintegration of boy soldiers and girl concubines are fundamental, as the two-year world-wide UN study concluded: "The field visits and research ... repeatedly stressed the importance of links between education, vocational opportunities for former child combatants and the economic security of their families. These are most often the determinants of successful social reintegration and, importantly, they are the factors that prevent re-recruitment." Peace must bring basic economic survival, or there will be no peace.

This study demonstrates why the international community needs to support UNICEF's call for children to be `zones of peace.' The goal is to outlaw adults from using children as targets or as instruments of war.

What these international campaigns have not highlighted, however, is the forced concubinage of girls and women, treated as `war booty' and as property to be used or distributed by the highest ranking male. Not exactly new, in fact as old as war itself, it is time that this practice is named and condemned as enslavement. Human rights groups need to begin documenting and writing chapters on `forced concubinage,' as they continue their excellent work exposing other violations of human rights. The abuse of `boy soldiers' has attained international notoriety. It is time to add the girls.

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Printable Version

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