Girls are exposed to multiple dangers in crisis regions: they are forcibly recruited, forced to kill or killed themselves and abused in their own troops. A world day of action is drawing attention to their fate.
Interviewer: Why is the world day of action against the use of child soldiers called "Red Hand Day"?
Jorg Nowak (Catholic relief agency missio): There is a symbolic participation: People in Germany and other countries are called to show their solidarity with a red handprint. So far, almost half a million people have taken part worldwide. This is a symbolic action, with which we want to show our solidarity, that we support these 250.We must not lose sight of the need to protect 000 child soldiers, we must not abandon them, and we must work to reduce the number and, in the long term, to ensure that there are no more minors who have to go to war.
Interviewer: German aid organizations denounce the use of child soldiers. It is high time to draw attention to the dramatic fate of girls, whose share varies between five and 20 percent of the child soldiers used, depending on the conflict, he added. Why is their situation particularly depressing?
Nowak: Girls who are forced to kill by rebels or government armies have their enemies on two sides. On the one hand, they are sent to the battlefield as cannon fodder and have the opposing troops as enemies. Then when they return from these conflicts to the rebel units, their own so-called comrades are the biggest enemies because these girls are often raped and abused as sex slaves. They're sort of surrounded by evil and they don't even have any protection within the unit that they're conscripted into. And that, of course, is particularly tragic.
Interviewer: You have accompanied the former child soldier China Keitetsi from Uganda for missio over a longer period of time. What kind of trauma does a child soldier carry around with her??
Nowak: The first is to be a little girl in danger of life and fear for life. It is the first trauma. The second is this absurd double role of being a victim and a perpetrator on the one hand when you are sent to this war. China Keitetsi has been raped several times by her own soldiers. Two children were born after these rapes. At that time, when she had to fight hard as a child soldier, she could not take care of these children at all. Only when she managed to escape after a long time, in the meantime she lives in Europe, she came together with these children again. You can now say it is a small, happy, harmonious family.
But that was a long, hard road. I found it very impressive how, over the years that I have known and accompanied China Keitetsi, a change is possible through important church partners who do pastoral work and trauma work. As horrific as this ie is, such former child soldiers can be returned to a largely normal life. That is why aid projects like missio's are so important. I have seen this firsthand in China Keitetsi, how much she has changed.
Interviewer: What is important in projects in such crisis regions as, for example, eastern Congo??
Nowak: I would like to give the example of a project of Aktion Schutzengel in Congo. There is a German project partner of missio, Ingrid Janisch, who takes care of 110 former child soldiers. They take care of the children psychologically, but they also have a very interesting approach. They say: We must lead her back to a normal life again. They have small gardens with plants and animals. The former child soldiers take care of the gardens and animals, planting shrubs and trees.
Besides psychological care, this is a return to a normal life, by taking responsibility for a goat or a turkey. And missio calls for financial support for this trauma work. But we also need that little animal park there. The former child soldiers have lost trust in people, have been abused by the adults who are responsible for the most terrible atrocities. If they then take on the care of an animal, that can help in overcoming trauma. This will allow these former child soldiers to open up.