“This monster stole my childhood”
The trial of ex-Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo resumed last week at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The founder and former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots was a key player in the Ituri conflict and stands accused of using child soldiers.
It is 5 pm when I enter the compound: dozens of radiant young girls, gathered with their toddlers, are ready to return home after a day at school. Most of them are single mothers, ex-child soldiers in Ituri’s bloody civil war.
In a small office nearby, Yolande tells me how she became a soldier against her will at the age of 13. While attempting to flee the advancing militia with her parents, she was raped by a soldier who then took her as his “wife”. Her “husband” taught her how to wield guns, pistols and automatic rifles and took her out to pillage neighbouring villages. She was forced to shoot people, she said, “otherwise he would kill me.”
In all, around 13,500 children were enrolled in the Ituri militia. Of the 5,500 girls, 70% are now child mothers.
For some, former child soldiers are victims of war, for others, they are criminals. In their communities, they are viewed with suspicion. “They accuse us for everything bad that happens. When there’s pillaging in the villages and neighborhoods, it is us. Anything bad is us.”