By Sarah Crowe
A former child soldier practices writing capital letters at a UNICEF-assisted care centre in Monrovia, Liberia.
The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child is the theme of the 51st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women from 26 February to 9 March 2007. Here is one in a series of related stories.
GANTA, Liberia, 26 February 2007 – Towards the end of Liberia’s 15-year civil war, Gloria (not her real name) was abducted into the rebel forces by boys she knew. She tried to resist but they forced her at knifepoint. She went on to spend six months cooking, cleaning and learning how to use a weapon.
“They told me we are going to fight for our country,” recalled Gloria, now 16. “I was not happy but I had no choice. I was crying every night. I would have dreams about my parents. My life was in danger.”
Her story is like those of the almost 12,000 Liberian children who were directly involved in the conflict. They served on the front lines as soldiers, sex slaves or labourers and porters, facing death and living with nightmares. Gloria considers herself lucky because she was never raped and never hit.
“The first time I saw [the rebels] kill someone in my presence I almost fainted,” she said. “But when I saw that happening a few times, I started to get used to it.”
Eventually Gloria managed to escape and paid a local villager to help her cross the river to Guinea, where she searched for and found her family. “When I saw my sister I cried. I was so happy,” she said.
© UNICEF video
Making up for lost time
‘Gloria’ was abducted at knifepoint by boys she knew and forced to cook and clean for rebel forces during Liberia’s civil war.
Liberia is slowly trying to pull itself out of its violent past. The first elected woman president in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has promised to make the country’s children and their education a priority. There have been real changes in Liberia already – new roads, streetlights, schools – but the damage to children like Gloria goes deep and will take longer to repair.
By the time the war ended, Gloria had lost a year of school. With the help of a UNICEF-supported programme she was trained in hairdressing and cosmetology, and how to run a small business.
Her new life is a far cry from her life in the war. But Gloria wants to go further; she hopes to study to become a nurse or a doctor.
Pain of the past
“The best way for people outside to help us now is to provide more training centres,” said Gloria. “There are a lot of children who are not going to school and they are not even getting training. They are just wasting their time in the streets.”
Sometimes Gloria still sees the boys who kidnapped her – and though they remind her of the pain of the past, she tries to understand the pressure they were under to do what they did, and to move on.
“Sometimes I talk to my family about how bad it is but I don’t want to think about it too much,” she said. “Maybe the best way now is for us children to focus on our lessons.”