This article originally appeared in Spanish newspaper Expansion

"It is better to die than to go home and be rejected," says a 16-year-old girl.

The stigmatization and rejection they suffer from their own families has led some former soldier girls released in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to reintegrate into armed groups, despite the fact that in most Cases in the ranks of these organizations suffered sexual abuse.

This is denounced by the NGO Child Soldiers International, in a report published on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflicts and which includes the entire cycle of violence to which a particularly vulnerable group is subjected.

Experts estimate that as many as 40 percent of minors fighting in the ranks of armed groups may be girls, even though they only account for 7 percent of those released through the work of UN agencies.

Most of the girls interviewed have acknowledged that they have been sexually abused by members of these factions, to the point that they become almost daily aggressions.

"Sometimes I did not even know the name of the man who abused me," said a 16-year-old survivor. "I wanted to escape, but I saw what they did to those who tried. I was too scared," he said.

For others, an abuse was the source of her attachment to the armed group, as explained by a 19-year-old girl who decided to join the Mai Mai after her mother was raped before her entire family. With "shame, grief and anger" for what happened, one day he decided to take up arms to "avenge" his mother.

The family is also located on the other side of the chain, the reintegration chain, not always ready to facilitate the return of a child deprived of her childhood, as Child Soldiers International has verified from 150 interviews with survivors.

Rejection and stigma still predominate and add a new suffering to a return that some minors are not even raised. "It is better to die than to go home and be rejected," admits a 16-year-old girl consulted by the NGO, while another 14-year-old girl explains that neighbors do not let her join her daughters for having sex , Even if they were victims of abuse.

HIV stigma also persecutes these "forest girls", who mostly claim only a better future. "My desire is to go back to school and be responsible to help others who have suffered problems like mine," says an 18-year-old victim.

Child Soldiers International program manager Sandra Olsson has acknowledged her "concern" about rejections of child soldiers, "much more common" when it comes to women. Persistent discrimination demonstrates the "loss of social value" associated with extramarital sex, which in Olsson's view leads to the "suffering" of these minors being "misunderstood" or "completely ignored."

Banner image credit: MONUSCO.