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The Suffering of the Girl Soldier

Former child soldier is recovering at the UNICEF-supported Kitgum Concerned Women’s Association (KICWA) in the northern town of Kitgum
Abducted by the LRA in 2003 while
collecting firewood for her mother,
this 15-year-old former child soldier
is recovering at the
UNICEF-supported Kitgum
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 Story

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 Context

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
http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/07/contactus.asp?address=4

Luca Solimeo, Tel: +1 917 367 3563
Send an email
http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/07/contactus.asp?address=5

USEFUL WEB LINKS:

Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
http://www.un.org/children/conflict/

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
http://www.unicef.org/emerg/index_childsoldiers.html

Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse (UNICEF)
http://www.unicef.org/protection/index.html

The Paris Principles -- Principles and guidelines on children
http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/ParisPrinciples310107English.pdf

associated with armed forces or armed groups (February 2007)
http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/ParisPrinciples310107English.pdf

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)
http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=a/62/609

Report to the General Assembly of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (A/62/228) (13 August 2007)
http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=a/62/228

Africa Renewal
http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol21no1/211-child-soldiers.html

UN News Service
http://www.un.org/news