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Gender equality

A former child soldier speaks out at UN session on challenges facing girls

© UNICEF/2007/Markisz
Madeleine, a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo, describes her experiences at the 'Girls Speak Out' forum.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, USA, 2 March 2007 – The striking testimony of a girl who was formerly a child soldier brought an audience of hundreds to its feet for a standing ovation – and moved many to tears – at United Nations headquarters in New York this afternoon.

Madeleine, 15, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was one of six presenters at the ‘Girls Speak Out’ forum hosted by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) as part of the 51st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which is taking place this week ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

“What happens to these girl soldiers is not their fault,” said Madeleine. “They were victims of the selfish interests of parties acting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Bringing perpetrators to justice

Madeleine, who was forcibly recruited by the Mai Mai militia in her country, described the difficulties faced by girls in her position when they try to reintegrate with society. Girl soldiers are used as sex slaves, she said, and most return from combat with “fatherless” babies, which means they are stigmatized by the community and outcast.

“I ask myself, what is their future after being demobilized?” said Madeleine.

© UNICEF/2007/Markisz
Broadcast news presenter Katie Couric moderates questions to the panel at the UN ‘Girls Speak Out’ event.

Now working as an advisor for the reintegration of girl combatants, Madeleine asserted that the International Criminal Court should prosecute the perpetrators of sexual abuse against child soldiers. “The world must recognize this crime,” she said, “and ask for forgiveness for these girl soldiers.”

Diverse panel of speakers

The other speakers at today’s event included:

  • Melina from Armenia, who described the problems faced by children with disabilities in her country
  • Memory from Zambia, who is living with HIV
  • Sunita from Nepal, who advocates for the education of disadvantaged girls
  • Alisha from Thailand, who called for the elimination of sex trafficking
  • Golfidan from Jordan, who works to empower girls and women to combat all forms of violence against them – particularly domestic violence.

‘Courage and activism’

The afternoon included a question-and-answer session with the audience, which was moderated by the presenter of the CBS Evening News in the United States, Katie Couric. She applauded “the courage and activism” of the girls for coming to speak at the UN.

Summing up the purpose of the girls’ testimonials, Memory insisted that governments should know the importance of protecting girls and young women. “They may have very good policies, but if they don’t care for the well-being of their girls and women, then even they are in danger,” she said.

The ‘Girls Speak Out’ forum was organized by UNGEI and UNICEF, along with the UN Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues; the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict; the NGO Committee on the Status on Women; and the NGO Working Group on Girls.




2 March 2007:
Memory, 18, of Zambia tells UNICEF Television how her life has been affected by HIV.
 VIDEO  high | low

2 March 2007:
Golfidan, 18, from Jordan explains how empowering girls can help stop violence against them.
 VIDEO  high | low

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