Former Child Soldier Tells Her Story at UN Security Council
    2009-04-30 04:56:37     Xinhua      Web Editor: Yang
 

by Lucy-Claire Saunders

One night at a Ugandan high school, 15-year-old Grace Akallo was abducted along with 138 of her friends by a brutal rebel group known as the Lord Resistance Army (LRA).

With a gun to her head and her wrists tied, Akallo was forced to march into the northern Uganda forest. At that moment, her spirit died as she knew there would be no surviving.

Akallo shared her sad story at the UN Security Council here on Wednesday, as she was invited to speak at an open Council debate on children and armed conflict, just to show how important it is to protect the interests and rights of children involved in armed conflict.

The students of St. Mary's college marched for days, all the time followed by Sister Rachele, the head mistress of the high school. The rebels told Sister Rachele to go home or else they would rape and kill her in front of the children. But she refused to go anywhere without her students.

In the end, Sister Rachele was released with 109 girls. Akallo was not one of them.

During the long march to Sudan, children who could not walk their tired bodies any further were killed. The rebels would use sticks, axes, bayonets or machetes.

When Akallo and the remaining students finally arrived in Sudan, they were given AK-47s. They were taught how to dismantle, clean and assemble the rifle but they were not taught how to shoot or to fight. Hunger would eventually teach them, LRA commanders said. And it did.

Hungry and thirsty, Akallo and hundreds of other children were sent to battle the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) several times. At one point, Akallo fainted and was buried in a shallow grave. But Akallo survived.

Violence did not end on the battle field. Akallo was forced to kill girls who tried to escape the advances of rebel commanders. Then she was raped herself, again and again.

Then on April 9, 1997, after seven months in captivity, Akallo finally got the chance to escape when the LRA was attacked by rebels from southern Sudan. Seizing the opportunity, Akallo ran as fast as she could until she found herself far from the chaos of the battle. For two weeks she walked, surviving only on leaves, soil and dew in the morning.

Eventually she was rescued by villagers from southern Sudan and handed back to Sister Rachele and her parents.

Akallo would later graduate from high school and then graduate from Gordon College as the first person from her village to do so.

"I was lucky enough to be able to escape," she told the Security Council. "But so many girls are still waiting for their chance to be rescued, and I think everyday of the friends I left behind."

Every year, millions of children are impacted by the horrors of armed conflict. Grave violations, which have been documented in the UN secretary-general's recent report on children and armed conflict, go beyond the recruitment of children. For the first time, the report calls on members of the Security Council to expand the scope of the UN's protection framework to also include sexual violence and the maiming and killing of children.

Both Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and Special Representative of the Secretary-general for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy called the expansion of the UN's monitoring mechanisms a critical step in striking a blow to perpetrators.

Speaking before a hushed audience in the Security Council chamber, Akallo said her goal was to remind the world of the stories of children who were still trapped by relentless and violent forces.

Their lives continue to be ruined, she said, but ultimately she has hoped that their futures will also be saved.

"There is hope," she said, "because I believe that this Council will act."

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