Life on the run from the rebels: how your donations have helped

Boxing Day saw the rescue of 64 former child soldiers, as rebels advanced on the capital of the Central African Republic. But Unicef’s rehabilitation work with them has only just begun

Share

 

Please donate to our appeal for child soldiers here.

When Juliette was 13, the men with guns came. They took her from her home, their leader handed her to his lieutenants, and for three years she was used as a sex slave. Now she is five months pregnant, impoverished and alone.

The soldier who fathered her child threw her out of the camp when she became pregnant. The village she came from in the north of the Central African Republic was unwilling to welcome back an unmarried mother, despite the circumstance in which the child had been conceived.

A month ago the children’s charity Unicef found Juliette and moved her to a rehabilitation centre in the northern town of Bria. She has since been moved – twice – as rebel troops, hostile to the government, pressed south towards the capital Bangui.

First she was moved to a centre for street children converted by Unicef in Bangui. Then on Boxing Day she and 63 other rescued children were evacuated again, to the safety of a secure compound in the city. There she and the other children rescued from armed militias by Unicef – in work being funded by The Independent’s Christmas appeal – are being supported by a network of teachers, doctors and psychosocial workers who will continue the children’s rehabilitation after their enslavement by armed rebel factions.

Juliette’s greatest concern, however, remains for the boys and girls who are still with the paramilitaries. “They are not well,” she said, the bump of her pregnancy clearly visible against her top. “They do not eat well. They sleep in very poor conditions. They have to stand guard at night. When it rains, they have to stand in the rain. Here we are well. Here we sleep well. Here we are OK.”

Juliette and her belongings were taken by rebels from the CPJP (the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace) when her home town of Aigbando was overrun by the militia’s soldiers.

If the soldiers demanded to have sex with her and she refused, she was punished by being tied up and beaten. Some of these beatings occurred in public, the girl tied to a post. In recent months at least two women have died while being punished in this way.

In the centre of the CPJP’s camp a pit had been dug, and  girls who “misbehaved” were often thrown in and left in the hot tropical sun.

But for Juliette, now she has escaped from the militias, the challenge for Unicef is to help her reintegrate into the local communities and resume – as much as possible – a normal life.

It’s a tough challenge. Local people are often frightened of the child soldiers, who were brainwashed, fed drugs and forced to commit such atrocities to turn them into killing machines.

It takes months of work by Unicef to rehabilitate them. And it can take just as long for the local people to accept them back into their communities.

When the security situation in the country returns to normal a team of outreach workers from the rehabilitation centre in Bria will resume its regular visits to the surrounding villages to prepare them for a child’s return. Local people are educated on these visits, learning that the child soldiers are victims too, and that they need the community’s help to recover from their ordeal.

When a child is placed back with relatives or a foster family – often for nights only at first, their days still spent at the centre – the outreach workers visit two or three times a week to check they are OK, and to offer counselling when problems arise.

Roselyne Gounalahou is one of the centre’s outreach workers. When I accompanied her on her rounds, it was clear how important this work is. One teenage girl, Clemence, was gradually re-establishing contact with her mother, visiting her home a couple of days a week under Roselyn’s watchful eye.

It was clearly still early days for this family, their greeting to each other a handshake and the mother and daughter sitting awkwardly beside each other as they spoke outside the family’s mud brick hut. Yet both were clearly happy to have the chance to be reunited.

“When I was with the armed group I never thought for a second I would see my mother again,” Clemence said. “I never felt I would receive my freedom. Now I just want to rekindle our relationship.”

Shortly after Clemence was taken by the CPJP, her mother took a dangerous trip to the armed group’s camp to plead for her daughter’s return. Shewas refused.  “I think about what will happen now,” Clemence’s mother said. “I make plans about what it means and how we can make it work. I can help her. There are many things now in her head that I can help her with.”

She turned to look at her daughter. “I never expected to see her back. It was a great surprise seeing her again. A magical surprise.”

By contrast, Juliette is not yet at the stage where she can move out of the direct care of Unicef. Her pregnancy makes reintegration more difficult. She and her family are at present not even talking.

Instead the charity is helping her through her pregnancy and procuring stock and equipment so she can set herself up as a small businesswoman to feed her and her child when the baby is born.

Ms Gounalahou says the most important thing, in a case like Juliette’s, is “patience”.

“What the children experience with the armed groups is terrible,” she said. “What people need to be is understanding and gentle with them. It can be a struggle. But that is how they can now best be protected.”

The names of the girls in this article have been changed to protect their identities.

Money raised by The Independent’s Christmas Appeal helps fund Unicef’s work with former child soldiers in the Central African Republic.

Click here to donate. Text CHILD to 70030 to donate five pounds.

• £6 provides life-saving treatment for one child from fatal diarrhoea, pneumonia, or malaria, all diseases that the children are vulnerable to in the Central African Republic

• £15 pays for schooling for a child who has been rescued from an armed group – including providing all the books and stationary they need.

• £25 provides a child with all the essentials they need when they are first rescued. This ‘welcome kit’ includes clothes, underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a blanket, mattress, and mosquito net.

• £62 provides vocational training to a child released from armed groups, providing them with a sustainable future

• £103 trains a teacher to help former child soldiers continue their education

• £150 pays for psychological support for one child who has been rescued

• £300 can buy enough toys for a centre for 50 rescued children to play with, to help them regain their childhood by having fun again

• £516 can support one child for a whole month. This covers the cost of everything they need at the rehabilitation centre, including care from dedicated and experienced staff, food, counselling, education, vocational training, and the costs for family reunification

Click here to bid in our charity auction

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests