There are more than half a million refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo currently being hosted in eastern African countries. 18-year-old Marie* is one of them. She arrived in Kakuma Refugee Camp, in northern Kenya, in April 2017.
This is her story, in her own words:
“I was the last to be born in my family. My parents passed away and my older brothers helped raise me. We were farmers, we lived in a village. I went to school, until Grade 6.
“When I was 15, there was an attack on our village. The guys came at night. They were firing guns all over. They came to my house and took me. There were so many other girls also captured at that time.
“He took me into the forest, and I was raped. Those girls who refused were killed.
“I was ‘married’ for two years. He had two other wives as well. We lived in the forest. There was no house, no structure. We just slept on the ground, with the mosquitos and wild animals. Life was very difficult. My life became one of troubles, of sickness. I suffered a lot, I was not happy, I was thinking about taking my life.
“I had a baby, there in the forest. I called her Gloria. I loved her.
“My husband was a rebel. He often left home to fight. Life was starting to defeat me. I started to think of ways to get out, to escape.
“One day when I was picking wild vegetables, I met another woman from a nearby village. She understood I was in trouble. I told her my story. She showed me a path to escape, to reach Burundi if I kept walking. We weren’t too far from the border, it was possible.
Seeing that no one was “home” when she returned, Marie immediately planned to escape, which came with the hard decision to leave her baby, who was 2 at that time, with her neighbours. She had hoped that her older brothers would be able to get her.
“I took to the road and ran until I reached the border of Burundi. I stayed in Burundi for a few days and then heard that my husband had sent a team to look for me.
“I had a bit of money and boarded a bus for Uganda. I met another woman there, who listened to my story and then told me to go to Kakuma, in Kenya. She said there were other women from my country there. She gave me money to pay for the bus fare.
After leaving DR Congo, it took Marie three weeks to reach Kakuma. There, she ran into an old friend who had also escaped, and was invited to live at her home. Finally in a safe place, she was also able to contact her neighbours back in Congo, who told her that her daughter was doing fine.
Marie is grateful that she is being provided with food and training in the refugee camp. “I’m learning to plait hair. I hope this becomes my work in the future.”
Marie is one of thousands of children who have endured sexual and gender-based violence. Thousands of girls who are displaced from their homes because of conflict endure sexual and gender-based violence before the age of 18.
“World Vision is deeply concerned that the world is seeing the highest global levels of forced displacement since World War II pushing more and more children on the move, escaping the violence of war and conflict, only to fall vulnerable to other forms of violence: use and recruitment by armed groups, sexual abuse, trafficking, labour or child marriage,” says Brenda Kariuki, World Vision’s Director of Advocacy for East Africa. “We must work together to address and prevent violence against children. It takes a world to act together to ensure children are able to reach their potential.”
* Name changed to protect identity