“I was going to the market to sell vegetables and I was stopped by armed men. They asked for money and phone, but I didn’t have either. So, they took me to Birisi where they gave me a uniform and shoes for soldiers.”

Mary* was abducted by opposition forces in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria region last year.

Separated from her two-year-old son, five siblings and sick mother, Mary, now 18, is one of more than 19,000 children who have been recruited by warring parties in South Sudan since 2013.

Like many other girls in the camp where she was taken, Mary was forced to carry out domestic work and participate in attacks.

“They taught me how to rob people,” she told us. “When we heard the whistle from the commander we would come out and loot.”

I was always thinking about my poor mother and my baby. He couldn’t even walk when they took me.

Mary (pictured below with her daughter) was able to escape four months after being abducted, but life is tough. She became pregnant in the group and now has a baby daughter to care for.

Afraid that soldiers would come back, Mary’s mother sent her to live with her grandmother, “but conditions were difficult, there wasn’t much to eat” she told us, and so returned home after several months.

Mary* with her young daughter conceived during her time in the armed group. Bakiwiri, South Sudan.

Her experiences are tragically not uncommon. Thousands of boys and girls remain trapped in similar situations across South Sudan, and among those that are being released or manage to escape many are in need of support once home.

We need your help to make sure they get what they need.

Our work in South Sudan focuses on improving reintegration support given to returning girls like Mary. 

Working with UNICEF, we met with dozens of girls in the country this year to hear about their experiences. These interviews, alongside consultations with NGOs, communities and religious leaders, will enable us to develop new practical guidance for child protection actors to strengthen support programmes to former child soldiers.

Following this, we are hoping to start dedicated projects – like those we have in DR Congo – ensuring girls have all the help they need to rebuild their lives.

Mary is now back with her family, caring for her children and siblings, but is unable to return to school. Instead, she makes alcohol from maize and cassava to earn a small income, but for all this work Mary only earns 50 South Sudanese Pounds (about 30p) per bottle.

Life is OK but also hard,” she says. “I hope I can go back to school.

With your support, we can help girls like Mary go back to school and work towards improving the life of other returning children in South Sudan.

If you can, please donate to our South Sudan Christmas Appeal here.

 

*Name changed to respect the privacy and ensure the safety of the concerned individual.