he only memento Moses Z. Kaine has from his father is a T-shirt, left more than two decades ago when the peacekeeper’s tour of duty finished and he returned home, leaving his pregnant girlfriend behind.
“I was still in my mother’s womb when my father ended his duties and left Liberia,” the 21-year-old told The Associated Press. “My mother says my father wore this T-shirt when he came around to visit her. She still can remember those moments well.”
The story is as old as war itself: Children left behind by the soldiers who fathered them.
Kaine is among more than 6,000 children fathered by soldiers in a West African peacekeeping mission that came to Liberia in 1990 and left eight years later, according to a center set up to register and support them.
A smaller number of children were fathered by members of a separate U.N. mission that emerged as Liberia struggled to emerge from a vicious civil war.
Many of the Liberian children, now grown, have never met their fathers. Others were abandoned by their mothers and grew up as orphans.
As they enter adulthood two decades after the peacekeepers’ departure, they are the focus of new attention in a world coming to terms with sexual exploitation and abuse by soldiers sent to protect vulnerable communities.
Unlike many of the Liberian children left behind, Kaine says his father looked out for him, asking if he could bring the boy and his mother home to where he lived.
“Family pressure and fears made my mother remain,” he said pensively.
Even the few details Kaine has about his father are inconclusive: The T-shirt worn by his father, Lt. Cpl. Taiwo-Oyetunji, still clearly bears the seal of the West African regional body ECOWAS, under whose umbrella the ECOMOG peacekeepers arrived.
It’s a shirt from Niger, though his father’s ID says he is of the Yoruba tribe, from Nigeria. Kaine became emotional upon seeing an identity card with him pictured in his uniformed father’s arms.