There are an estimated 465,000 people living in modern slavery in Sudan (GSI 2018). Between 1983 and 2005, the central government of Sudan enslaved tens of thousands of black South Sudanese Christian and traditionalist people. It was part of a genocidal war against South Sudan, with a simple aim: to force South Sudan to become Arab and Muslim.
Grace Akello was abducted from her high school dorm in October 1996 by the Lord’s Resistance Army. She, along with 29 other girls, was forced to march to Sudan under the threat of death if they could not keep up. Upon arrival, she was given an AK47 and told hunger would teach her to shoot. Grace was subjected to sexual violence for seven months before she was able to escape in April 1997.
Madame Chairperson, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
Let me thank you for inviting me to give a small voice to the many voiceless children in wars. My name is Grace Akallo. I am from Uganda, and I was born in northern Uganda. I'm not only here to talk about my own story but on behalf all the children in armed conflict who have to face and survive the atrocities of war; who suffer through the abuses of being used as child soldiers and raped and sexually abused. I am thankful that you are here at the highest level, and, to me, it means that you care; that you are decision makers who want to show their commitment to stop the suffering of children in wars.
Let me tell you my story:
After elementary school my parents sent me to St. Mary's college, a high school for girls in Aboke, northen Uganda. I stayed in a dormitory with dozens of others girls who also came from far away. I was excited because only a few girls from my village went to a high school. I had learnt the advantages of education and I was determined to be the first person to go to university in my village.
Sadly, my dream of a great future was cut short when, on October 9, 1996, the Lord's Resistance Army stormed into my dorm and abducted me along with138 other girls at gun point. I was among the first five who were tied and pushed to move out. We were forced by the LRA soldiers to form four straight lines and were marched out into the woods. I knew at that moment that there was no surviving. My spirit died. My body was constantly wet with urine.
Sister Rachele the Duty head Mistress at the school followed the rebels. She had no power. The rebels threatened to kill or rape her in front of us. She was asked to leave, but she refused to leave without her children. She stood her ground and, in the end, she was released with 109 girls. I was not one of the lucky ones though, as I was among the 30 that were forced to remain.
After a month of wandering in the northern Uganda forest, we were divided into two groups to make it easier to control our march to southern Sudan. On the way, many children who could not walk were killed and their bodies abandoned in the forest. The rebels would use sticks, axes, bayonets or machetes.
When we arrived in Sudan, I and my friends were given AK47. We were taught to dismantle, clean and assemble the gun. My group was not taught to shoot or to fight; we were told hunger would eventually teach us, and indeed it did. I and my friends were sent to battles with the Sudan People's liberation Army (SPLA) several times. Hunger and thirst was the order of the day. During the long march back from battle against the SPLA I fainted from thirst and hunger and the LRA actually buried me in a shallow grave, thinking that I was dead.
In addition to being forced to fight, I and my friends were distributed to the rebel commanders. We were forced to kill those girls who tried to escape or refused their husbands. I was repeatedly raped by an LRA commander on countless occasions. I was an innocent young girl. I had never known a man in my life until that day. I felt like a rock was being thrust into my skin. Yet, I had to survive.
On April 9, 1997, after seven months in captivity, I finally got a chance to escape from the rebels. The LRA was attacked by the rebels from southern Sudan, giving me the chance to run away. I walked for two weeks without food in this place I did not know, surviving only on wild leaves, soil and dew in the morning. I was rescued by villagers from Southern Sudan and handed back to the Ugandan Government soldiers who then handed me over to sister Rachele and to my parents. I was happy to be back, but my heart was saddened by the ongoing torture my friends were still going through. I left too many of them behind.
After a month at home, I went back to St Mary's College and later graduated. I was lucky to go to University level. But many of the girls who manage to escape are not able to return to school or have dreams for their future because they were not helped to deal with their horrible experiences, or because they now have babies born of their abuse.
I have told my own story, but the stories you have not heard are thousands-fold. There are dozens of armies and rebel groups who continue to ruin the lives of children in the same ways around the world. I'm here to remind you of the very real suffering of these children who are hoping for you to act.
When I read the report in front of you, I was amazed with the progress made to stop girls and boys from being forcibly taken from their homes, beaten and forced to kill. Although child soldiers are still around, many have already been released. However, when I read further in the report, I saw so little that means so much to me: What has been done for those boy and girl victims of rape? Sexual violence is a terrible crime and perpetrators must be punished. It has to stop. I am saying this out of experience.
I was lucky enough to be able to escape and to be supported by people who cared for me, like sister Rachele. But so many girls are still waiting for their chance to be rescued, and I think everyday of the friends I left behind.
I heard the Special Representative when she asked what she should say to victims of sexual violence like Adila and me. My answer is very simple: There is hope. There is hope because I too believe that this Council will act and succeed like it has for child soldiers; for those thousands of children out there who still wait. I say this myself, because I still wait for some of my friends to return, and I hope that everyone here will be committed to bring people like my friends back home.
The testimony of Grace Akallo given on April 29, 2009 to the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict and has been provided by Voices of Education