CONGO CASE STUDY: Aimerance, girl soldier

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 7 Jul 2006 00:00 GMT
Author: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. Click For Restrictions. http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
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After two years as a child soldier in Democratic Republic of Congo, being forced to fire a gun and have sex whenever the men wanted, Aimerance is back with her family in the eastern province of South Kivu. The conflict in Congo has claimed 3.9 million lives from violence, war-related hunger and disease since 1998, even though the war officially ended in 2003.

Aimerance was 17 at the time of this interview with Suzanne Fisher. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.

"My father and mother are farmers - they cultivate other people&${esc.hash}39;s fields and then people pay them something. They farm other people&${esc.hash}39;s land. Our grandparents left a field for us but when they died, the rest of the family took the land back for themselves and my father was left with nothing.

"I was in third year of primary school. I left school because my father had no money to pay for me. After leaving school I spent my time at home. I was 14. One day a girl friend who I studied with visited me at my house and told me to join the armed forces. My friend was in a Congolese rebel faction. She said that she was doing well, and that I would do well if I joined. So that&${esc.hash}39;s why I joined up.

"I was with the group for two years. I used a gun many times, in many battles. We suffered a lot. I had lice in my hair. In the morning they would take us to guard places like the houses of a military authority. We also had to do all the cooking for lots and lots of people who were there. It was a lot of work.

"The men took us as their &${esc.hash}39;wives&${esc.hash}39; - they treated us very badly. They didn&${esc.hash}39;t start to rape me at the beginning, for the first year. It was later on that it began. There were lots of little houses in the military camp. They put girls and men in the houses. Then, the military men took us as their women.

"They didn&${esc.hash}39;t consider the fact that we were still children. At any time they wanted, they came and had sex with us. There were so many men. You could have one man who had sex with you and then he left. Then, a second came and talked to you and then had sex and went back to his home. Then a third would come to you, talk and have sex with you and go to his home. So they did what they wanted with me. We were only there to do what they wanted. Even if you refused, the men took you anyway - they would insist.

"I felt like I had no more energy left within me. I felt so weak and feeble and like I had lost all of my intelligence. There were seven of us girls who were treated that way. We all experienced the same thing. Now, I feel very bad here," she says, pointing to her lower abdomen or reproductive area.

"There was no way for me to escape and come back here. We were in Kisangani. It is far from here. One day, when they sent me to the market, I saw that my uncle was driving a car in the village. I hid in the car and he drove to Bukavu. From Bukavu I took another car from there to my home village.

"Two times since then soldiers from the rebel faction have come to bother me. They came to my house and tried to take me back, calling me a deserter. But the local community here pleaded with them to leave me alone. It is two months now since they have stopped coming to bother me.

"Because I fled and didn&${esc.hash}39;t leave the group officially, I have no official papers (which formally declare that former child combatants have left an armed group). If the rebel faction that I was a member of had let me go, then I could have that document.

"Now, I live with my family, which is good, except for the fact that we are really poor. I do little jobs for people here and there and try to make a bit of money. So, now I suffer but at least I am with my family."

Interview with Suzanne Fisher, February 2005

Read about the AlertNet poll of child danger spots:

Visit Save the Children&${esc.hash}39;s website to find out more about its work in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Find out more in our Congo crisis briefing.

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Reuters.