Childhood under assault
Part 2: Marie, Democratic Republic of Congo
Girls and boys deserve to grow up free from abuse and exploitation. But in the world’s most dangerous places, childhood is frequently the first casualty. Here is Marie’s story, the second in our 10-part series.
Warning: descriptions of violence experienced by children.
“They came to my house and took me”
It was evening in Marie’s* village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Supper was finished. Families enjoyed the cool of the evening, lingering around the lantern, laughing and telling stories.
Suddenly, gunfire pierced the night. And Marie’s life was split in two.
Before the guns lay her childhood, as a 15-year-old farm girl. After the guns lay forced adulthood, as the wife of a rebel soldier.
“The guys came,” she remembers. “They were firing guns all over.” The soldiers meant business. They began grabbing children, from their homes, from their beds.
“They came to my house and took me,” remembers Marie. “There were so many other girls captured at that time.” The men dragged the children into the forest. Marie was raped. The girls who fought back too hard were quickly killed.
At 15, Marie’s life was turned upside down when she was abducted and forced to ‘marry’ a rebel soldier in the DRC. Photo: Mark Nonkes
Forced marriage begins
Before long, Marie was ‘married’ to one of the men.
For more than two years, she performed all the duties of a ‘wife’, under the harshest of conditions.
“We lived in the forest. There was no house. We just slept on the ground, with the mosquitos and wild animals. My life became one of trouble, of sickness.”
Marie’s new ‘husband’ was a rebel, who went out to fight at night.
When dragged from her village, Marie joined thousands of the world’s children who are forced into the brutality of armed conflict
. Disposable on the battlefield. Replaceable back at camp.
“We lived in the forest. There was no house. We just slept on the ground, with the mosquitos and wild animals,” says Marie who was abducted and forced into marriage at age 15. Photo: Kate Shaw
As a forced ‘wife’, Marie belonged to another group, too: a child facing the horrors of sexual violence as the result of armed conflict and the displacement it causes. And Marie’s torment continued, day after day, tearing away at her body and spirit.
“I was thinking of taking my own life,” she remembers. Eventually, Marie knew it was time to flee, no matter what the consequences.
But escaping a group of brutal soldiers is no easy matter. Marie would need to avoid detection, live rough for weeks, and cover a great distance on foot. With few good choices before her, she decided to take the risk and run.
Through courage, resourcefulness and grim determination, Marie walked to Burundi. But she couldn’t stay. Her ‘husband’ had a team coming after her. With the little money she had, Marie bussed to Uganda, where a kind stranger paid her bus fare to Kenya.
Today, Marie is 18, and lives in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She met an old friend at the camp. And together, they’re slowly rebuilding their lives. Marie is learning to braid hair, a skill she hopes will support her in the future.
World Vision Kenya partners with the World Food Programme to distribute food from two distribution centres serving a population of 100,000 beneficiaries in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Photo: Angela Omune
At long last, there is one thing Marie doesn’t have to worry about – and that’s food. World Vision workers stationed at the camp are distributing provisions from the World Food Programme. In the evenings, Marie and her friend can light a fire, fill a pot, and enjoy a meal together.
Meanwhile back in the DRC, World Vision is working to prevent more children from being forced into combat, and to rehabilitate former child soldiers at the source, welcoming them back to childhood and the broader community, so that more children can live free from fear, safe from violence, and protected from abuse and exploitation.
For a girl like Marie who’s been starved for peace, protection and comfort, it’s an important start.
Global poverty is in retreat but has become more concentrated in the world’s darkest places. Over the next decade, more than 80 per cent of the world’s poorest children and families will live in the most dangerous places where lives and futures are threatened by conflict and disaster. Join the movement and take action against injustice. Learn how you can help.
*Name changed to protect her identity.