In the Shadow of War: Christiana’s story
Christiana* from Sierra Leone was one of scores of young women abducted by rebel fighters during the country’s decade long civil war.
Her story is just one of many featured in Plan’s 'Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls 2008’ report, which focuses on the state of girls in conflict situations around the world and what happens to them before, during and after war is over.
This is Christiana's story“I was 14 years old when I was captured by rebels. This was in 1998. I was a virgin back then and then one of the rebels raped me. After that I was used as a sex slave. I was held captive for three years from the time the rebels attacked Makeni up until the end of the war. There were other girls there and they were all treated the same as me. We were all treated very badly.
"The soldiers kept moving us around all the time. I tried to escape but it was difficult as there was always a bodyguard watching me.
"I became pregnant in 2002 and gave birth to a baby boy. He is now five years old. After the war ended and the soldiers gave up their arms, the rebel who captured me abandoned me. I had no home to go to for a while until I found my parents and returned to them.
"When I returned home my parents were supportive about my pregnancy because they knew it wasn’t my fault. Some parents rejected their daughters who had been captured and had returned pregnant. They called their babies ‘rebel children’ and threw their daughters out on to the street.
"There was one girl I know whose parents threw her out when she tried to return home. They said that if she ever tried to return again they would throw her baby into a pit latrine.
"I told my mother and father I wanted to go back to school but they said they could not afford to help me. We were living in poverty. It was then that a friend told me about Help and Needy Children [an NGO working with Plan in Sierra Leone to improve the lives of girls and women who were abducted by rebels during the conflict]. I registered with them and they helped me to return to school. They have been paying my school fees and bought my uniform for me. I have also been involved in peace marches and radio debates to fight the stigma faced by the girls who had been raped and had babies by rebels.
"I think that fighting for the rights of children, young mothers, and victims of rape is very important. It has helped young women like me who have been badly treated to develop pride in ourselves. Before, we used to be ashamed about what happened to us, even though it was not our fault, and of the babies we had by the rebel soldiers. Today we are no longer ashamed and we have helped to fight the stigma in our local communities.”
Telling our stories: listening to what girls have to sayGirls, like Christiana, are the ones who know the risks they face during times of instability and have ideas about how to protect themselves. Families, communities, agencies and governments should listen to them and act on what they say.
For this reason, “In the Shadow of War” is full of stories of girls who have survived, run households, learned new skills and even represented youth in international forums after their experience of having lived through a war. The report also contains policy and program recommendations for change at international, national and local levels in order to prevent abuse of girls and protect them, take account of girls’ particular needs, listen to their voices and promote their rights.
Join Plan's Because I am a Girl campaign and learn more about the issues facing girls in poor and conflict affected countries, and what you can do to make a difference.
What can you do?Sponsor a child today! Plan believes all children should have the opportunity to reach their full potential. By sponsoring a girl through Plan you can help make it possible for her to get the safe water, food, health care and education she deserves.
*Name of the interviewee has been changed to protect her identity.