So I said that I would try and do my best despite having school and I totally failed this first week. However, going ahead, I think now that I know my schedule and I know that it’s not going to change anymore and that I’m recommitting myself, I will do it. This is one of the things that I do for myself and I miss it when I don’t do it. So I’m making a commitment to you, my readers, and to myself.
Warning: I will say this several times but the below is hard to handle and hard to read. It’s heartbreaking.
So back on track, I want to share a short film today. I will warn you it is VERY disturbing if you’ve never seen anything like it before and it does contain graphic images and language. It is a video demonstrating how children become child soldiers. I’ll talk about this and what it means for young girls after the video. I think, however, despite the fact that it is disturbing and graphic, it is something that people should see. I think sometimes it’s hard for me (and others) to conceptualize how adults turn small children into killing machines. I think this is something that the video does well – it takes it and puts it in a Western setting, in a school setting we’re familiar with, that we can imagine. And this is how it happens, on a basic level. So please watch, if you can.
Before watching this video, I also had never realized that 40 percent of child soldiers worldwide are girls. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me that girls too were affected by child soldiering, but I mainly thought (wrongly) that boys were the only ones taken. I’m not sure why because I had even read stories of girls who were taken, but it never hit me until I watched this video that 40 percent (which is still a huge number, even though it’s less than boys, because it means that 2 out of every 5 child soldiers are girls). So obviously, it effects girls too in a huge way.
If you don’t know a lot about child soldiering in general, I encourage you to google it or ask questions here on the blog. At the basic level, it’s where a child is either forced to become a soldier in an armed conflict or joins “willingly” for promised benefits or out of feeling like there is no other choice.
I’m going to talk for a bit about girl child soldiers.Because they do differ from boy child soldiers in some ways, though many of the things they face are common problems. For example, something unique to girls is that they often report joining “voluntarily” to escape tough home situations – such as domestic abuse or sexual abuse or even just to escape being a domestic servant. So often times, if they aren’t abducted, their motivation for entering comes out of trying to escape other situations that are also bad. Pretty much, it’s a lose-lose situation. These girl child soldiers have been found in over 50 countries, so it’s not a problem that is just going to go away on its own.
While they are in, they face unique hardships because not only are they involved in combat, but they are sometimes subject to sexual violence or rape or end up becoming a “wife” to one of the adult leaders (I put it in quotation marks because I do not feel these young girls who become “wives” of the leaders have any choice in the matter). It’s especially cruel considering the above fact that some girls enter into to escape sexual abuse and then end up subjected to it anyways. Truly lose-lose again. Also, because of the rape and the fact that some of them are “wives,” if they become pregnant or have small children, they are expected to keep fighting anyways. Imagine yourself as a pregnant girl or as a girl with a newborn and then being sent to the frontline of an armed conflict. It’s horrible and heartbreaking.
“Our work found that the vast majority were sexually assaulted. You’d be dealing with very high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, about 30% of the girls in the three countries we worked in became pregnant during captivity in the fighting forces and are now returning as girl mothers.” – Diane Mazarana
They are also sometimes chosen to be suicide bombers, specifically because they are girls and they may not receive as close of a body search as a boy would – so these girls are being sent to death. It’s also sick and twisted because many, many groups will claim they are empowering these girls by offering a better option to be “more equal” with men, even though that’s clearly not the case at all.
Additionally, once they are in they face a harder time getting out. They are often left out of programs designed to help them get out and reintegrate them into society, either on purpose or accidentally and often face more stigmas upon returning to their hometowns because they have been raped or have small children. All is not helpless though, because now that people and groups are becoming more aware of it, there are organizations working specifically to help these girls.
Let me close lastly with these words. “The problems of girl soldiers are only one small element in a much wider array of girls’ issues and denial of girls’ rights.” -Michael Wessells And I think it’s true – I mean, look at how much of the idea that girls are sex objects and can be used for sex goes into the unique situation that girls face when they become child soldiers. Absolutely all child soldiering should be stopped, but girls face unique problems related to their unequal status – like the fact that many communities shame rape so much, even though it is not the fault of the girls.
I will end with these pictures and quotes from girl child soldiers. They are harsh and hard to read and see, but they are the reality that these girls face. Note, the pictures and the quotes underneath them are (as far as I know) not the same girls.
“I’ve seen people get their hands cut off, a ten-year-old girl raped and then die, and so many men and women burned alive . . . So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn’t dare cry out loud.” A girl child soldier from Sierra Leone
“There was no one in charge of the dormitories and on a nightly basis we were raped. The men and youths would come into our dormitory in the dark, and they would just rape us – you would just have a man on top of you, and you could not even see who it was. If we cried afterwards, we were beaten with hosepipes. We were so scared that we did not report the rapes The youngest girl in our group was aged 11 and she was raped repeatedly in the base.” – A girl child soldier in Zimbabwe
“At the age of 13, I joined the student movement. I had a dream to contribute to make things change, so that children would not be hungry, later I joined the armed struggle. I had all the inexperience and the fears of a little girl. I found that girls were obliged to have sexual relations ‘to alleviate the sadness of the combatants’. And who alleviated our sadness after going with someone we hardly knew?” – Girl Child Soldier from Honduras
“When you are pregnant there is no hospital in the bush, if the baby dies inside you they will rip it from you by force. It happened to many girls not just me.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier in Uganda
“One boy tried to escape, but he was caught… His hands were tied, and then they made us, the other new captives, kill him with a stick. I felt sick. I knew this boy from before. We were from the same village. I refused to kill him and they told me they would shoot me. They pointed a gun at me, so I had to do it. The boy was asking me, “Why are you doing this?” I said I had no choice. After we killed him, they made us smear his blood on our arms… They said we had to do this so we would not fear death and so we would not try to escape. . . I still dream about the boy from my village who I killed. I see him in my dreams, and he is talking to me and saying I killed him for nothing, and I am crying.” – Susan, a girl child soldier from Uganda
“When I came back I really wanted to go back to school. I always dreamt about school and my friends from before even when I was in the bush.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier from Uganda
“One day, my battalion commander took me to his bivouac (a military encampment) to rape me. Then he said that if I rebelled or tried to flee, he would kill me.” – Bea, a girl child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo
“Many girls have been through hardship like me, they are denied an education. If you are not educated, you are nothing.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier in Uganda
“My father didn’t want to see me again since he had heard people saying how soldiers had abused me.” – Josephine, a girl child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo
“Being responsible for other people was distressing. It’s either they die or I die in the crossfire because I am the one leading them.” – Aida, a girl child soldier from the Phillipines
” I feel pain from the rape, as if I have wounds inside, and I am afraid I have a disease. I would like to get tested but there is noone to help me. I was tested in the reception centre in Gulu , but I was never told the result. The doctor said that it is better not to know the result.” – A girl child soldier from Uganda
“I really want to rest and be with my mother… The best is to go home. I have this feeling that I’d be able to forget about the movement… I just want to laugh. I was always crying [when I was in the movement].” – Aida, a girl child soldier in the Phillipines
Books (As usual, I haven’t read them, just found them):
- BBC NEWS: Africa: Use of girl soldiers condemned
- Girls with Guns
- Grim Prospects of DRC’s Female Child Soldiers – IWPR Institute for War & Peace Reporting – P213
- Juliet’s Story – From Child Soldier to Head Girl and Global Advocate: War Child
- Liberating Child Soldiers in the Philippines – Voices of Youth