The Suffering of the Girl Soldier
Abducted by the LRA in 2003 while
collecting firewood for her mother,
this 15-year-old former child soldier
is recovering at the
Concerned Women’s Association
(KICWA) in the northern town of
Kitgum (Uganda). UNICEF/Roger LeMoyne
Although the plight of child soldiers embroiled in conflicts across the globe is better known, the fate of girls remains overlooked. They are often the victims of sexual violence and exploitation, recruited by rebel groups to serve as combatants and “sex slaves”. And even when they are freed, the stigma of rape and their association with militias remains.
The way Eva, all of 13 years old, carries her four-month old baby shows the burden of her suffering. She was abducted on her way to school, gang-raped, subject to forced nudity, and used as a sexual slave by a dissident armed group in Eastern Congo for more then two years. After several attempts, she managed to escape and realized that she was pregnant. Rejected by several communities, she roamed from one village to another before finding shelter in the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). “We miss girls in our interventions because many of them are unwilling to come forward in the first place, to be identified as “bush wives” or to have their children labelled as “rebel babies,” says Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
Communities often stigmatize and ostracize girls because of their association with rebel groups and the “taint” of having been raped. But ironically, even where associations between perpetrators and their victims began with abduction, rape and violence, over several years “family units” might have developed which include babies born of rape. Often, rebel groups categorically refuse to give up the girls at all, even after having committed to release children.
Reintegration is generally seen as the final stage of disarming and demobilizing armed groups.
For child soldiers it can be a complex and difficult process, requiring counselling, monitoring and other forms of care over and above economic and educational support. For the girls, many of them mothers, rebuilding their lives requires long-term support. Building emotional trust and reconciling with family and community are as key as providing access to education and developing a means of livelihood. A community-based approach, in which families and communities are central to defining and providing support, affords the best chances of success. This must be the focus for the international community, while at the same time it works to ensure there is no impunity for those who enslaved the child soldiers.
- The Secretary-General’s report on the situation of children and armed conflict (A/62/609 –S/2007/757) lists 58 parties (State and non-State actors) that recruit or use children in situations of armed conflict in 13 countries around the globe. In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children are defined as persons less than 18 years of age.
- Reports over the past decade have often cited an estimate of 250,000 to 300,000 children associated with armed forces or armed groups. Nearly one-third of child soldiers in Northern Uganda are female and especially vulnerable. The phenomenon of girl soldiers is globally under-reported and overlooked, but constitutes a serious component of child recruitment.
- Girls, especially adolescents, are more vulnerable to gender-based violence (including rape, sexual slavery, mutilation, trafficking, forced prostitution, forced marriage and forced impregnation). Many run the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, and being recruited into militias as combatants, cooks, porters, spies and sex slaves.
- The use of rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war – and the impunity afforded to its perpetrators – pose a particular risk to young girls in conflict zones. In the DRC, for example, children account for a startling 33 per cent of all rape victims.
- Representatives of 58 countries met in Paris in February 2007 and committed themselves to putting an end to the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts. The Paris conference, hosted by the Government of France and UNICEF, brought together both countries affected by the use of child soldiers as well as donor nations to tackle the recruitment of children and to harness the political will to confront it.
- The “Paris Principles and Guidelines on children associated with armed groups” establish two ways to address the issue of child soldiers: One is to build a serious international commitment to abolish the practice; and the other is to make sure that commitment is translated into real, ongoing protection for children and their families as they resume civilian life. In October 2007, seven more countries joined the original 58 who had approved the guidelines to subscribe to good practices in ending the use of children in armed conflict.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict:
Laurence Gerard, Tel: +1 212 963 0984
Send an email
Luca Solimeo, Tel: +1 917 367 3563
Send an email
USEFUL WEB LINKS:
Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse (UNICEF)
The Paris Principles -- Principles and guidelines on children
associated with armed forces or armed groups (February 2007)
Report to the Security Council of the Secretary-General on the situation of children and armed conflict (A/62/609-S/2007/757) (21 December 2007)
Report to the General Assembly of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (A/62/228) (13 August 2007)
UN News Service