A third of child soldiers are estimated to be girls in DR Congo - some as young as four years old. Many are forced to fight and are sexually abused. And when they come home they’re often outcast. We interviewed them to find out why and what can be done.

Two thirds of the girls we met had been abducted by an armed group, before being forced to fight.

One girl who was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army told us:

I was given a uniform. They taught me how to use the weapons. I fought in several battles, attacking villages and abducting children. They explained exactly how to kill using a stick - where to hit on the neck.

Many girls told us they’re still haunted by the fact that they profited from killing and stealing: ‘I hated the idea that I depended on pillages to live,’ one former child soldiers said. ‘The worse was the suffering we were inflicting; the thefts, the intimidation.’


Many girls were abducted by armed groups, but others volunteered. Reasons included not being able to attend school; to protect themselves or their families; or to avenge attacks on their families by an opposing group.

One girl said: ‘I heard I could get money if I joined and I needed to get enough to go back to school.’

A donation of £20 will pay for catch-up classes for one year for one of these former girl soldiers.

‘Wives’ and concubines

Many girls are not simply foot soldiers – they’re used as cooks, porters, escorts, spies and ‘wives’ or concubines.

One 17-year-old girl said she joined the Mai Mai armed group for her own protection, yet this soon came with a price. ‘After a man abused me for the first time, he slapped me hard in the face,’ she said. ‘And then others took me. I had nothing to say. I wanted to die.’

Another young girl said:

Sometimes I didn’t even know the name of the man who abused me at night. I wanted to escape, but I saw what they did to those who tried and were caught, and I was too scared.


A girl who was 15 when she was abducted said that when she escaped two years later and came home her neighbours called her a ‘prostitute’.

Another girl, now 15, told us: ‘Two days don't go by without neighbours making us feel we have “known men”. We’re not allowed to associate with their daughters.’

Some of these former child soldiers are trying to regain the community's acceptance by being humble, working hard in the fields and not attending social events.

Others have become defiant, saying they’re stigmatised regardless. Those who couldn’t take the rejection have gone back to the armed groups.


Schooling can help these girls reintegrate into their communities. Research shows that education can alleviate the traumatic effect of war and allow distressed children to develop a sense of self-worth.

For former girl soldiers it’s a way to escape a future of isolation – and poverty.

One 16-year-old girl told us:

If we could go to school, the community would be nicer to us, we would get some consideration. That would help a lot.

Her words echo what many told us.

Working with our local partners, we’re getting these girls back to school - either straight away or through catch-up classes. It’s one way to give them a chance for a better future.

A donation of £20 will pay for catch-up classes for one year for one of these former girl soldiers. Please consider a donation to our Back to School appeal

Photos: (Top) Broken chair © Ken Harper; (Middle) Empty classroom © Julien Harneis; (Lower) School in eastsern DR Congo © Julien Harneis