Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Former LRA Abductee Turns Campaigner
Juliet speaking to school children in London during her recent visit. (Photo: War Child)
Juliet Apio, not her real name, was 12 years old when her life changed forever.
In 2002, she was abducted from her home in northern Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Amy, LRA, and spent the next six years with the rebel group, enduring horrific treatment and abuse.
She was forced to travel with them to southern Sudan and on to the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, where she remained for seven months.
“Once you are abducted, you don’t have any rights. If you don’t do as they say, they will kill you,” Apio, now 20, said.
During her captivity, Apio witnessed the death of many other children. One was a friend from her village with whom she had been abducted.
At the age of 14, she was forced to marry a man much older than her and the resulting pregnancy ended in a week-long labour after which the baby died in her womb. With no proper medical facilities, a local doctor used a razorblade – and no anaesthetic – to remove the dead child.
“When you are pregnant with no hospital in the bush, if the baby dies inside of you they will rip it from you by force. It happened to many girls and not just me,” she said.
“I was so scared of escaping so I didn’t,” she added.
Apio was in London recently - on trip organised by the NGO War Child - to petition Prime Minister David Cameron to support children abducted by the LRA.
The militant group emerged in Uganda in 1986 and began an armed rebellion against the government, spreading their attacks in subsequent years to Sudan, DRC and the Central African Republic. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of LRA founder Joseph Kony, charging him with 12 crimes against humanity and 21 war crimes. He remains at large.
It is estimated that the rebels have abducted more than 25,000 children, many of whom were forced to fight for them.
Former child soldiers like Apio face numerous difficulties even after they escape from captivity. As well as problems around reintegrating into their families and the social stigma of being former combatants, they have to deal with the consequences of having their education interrupted.
As part of Apio’s visit to the United Kingdom, she delivered a letter to No 10 Downing Street, the home of the British premier, in which she called for the UK government “to help girls and children like me. We should be in school and in the position to achieve in life. We should not be forced into war and early marriage”.
“I have never forgotten about the children and girls who are still in the bush,” the letter continued. “I also appeal to you to find a way to release girls and children who are still in the bush with the LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and south Sudan.
“They should come back home and be supported to continue their studies. This is an international problem and I ask you to take international leadership to stop this injustice which is still carrying on.”
Juliet finally left the LRA in 2006, following the Juba peace process when the rebels reached an agreement with Ugandan government to release abductees in ill health.
Having developed a fistula during her lengthy labour, which left her incontinent, Juliet was sent to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. Following treatment there, she managed to return to her home in Uganda, where she was reunited with her family.
Apio received funding through War Child to continue her studies at a special college, established three years ago for women and girls abducted by the LRA who had their education interrupted. She dreams of becoming a lawyer to defend sexually-abused girls and bring those responsible to justice.
“Without education, you can’t be anybody,” said Juliet. “When I went back to school, it changed my life. It has built my knowledge.”
Britian's International Development minister Stephen O’Brien said, "Juliet's story is an inspiration to us all. Hearing her experience reminds us of the terrible toll that conflict takes on children, and that girls are too often the targets of armed violence and abuse.
“That is why the Department for International Development is proud to support the vital work that charities like War Child do to help to protect the world's most vulnerable children."
Nancy Sai is an IWPR intern in London.
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