Childhood under assault

Childhood under assault

Warning: descriptions of violence experienced by children.


Many girls in New Zealand have household jobs to do after school. They might fold laundry or wash dishes before settling down to do their homework. 

In South Sudan 13-year-old Agnes* was preparing to wash the dishes when her mother asked her to fetch some water. It was a routine request, but one that would forever change the course of Agnes’ life. 

She picked up her water jug and headed out. She hoped to see some friends on her way to the water source. 

But Agnes never met those friends.

Instead, four men appeared out of nowhere, grabbed her, and dragged her into the bush. They tied her hands and legs, so she couldn’t run or fight.

In an instant, Agnes became part of South Sudan’s brutal conflict. She would not return home with her water jug. 

Life as a child soldier 

Even before her abduction, Agnes’ childhood had already been shaped by war. Millions of South Sudanese children endure chronic hunger in the chaos wrought by violent conflict. They’ve endured illness, gone without schooling, grown up in fear. 

But now, life was even more brutal. Agnes was part of a militia which attacked passing vehicles, shooting and stealing. When the group captured families, it was worst of all. 

Like so many children in South Sudan, Agnes was abducted at age 13 by armed rebels and forced to participate in that country’s brutal civil war.
Photograph: Mark Nonkes

When Agnes shared her story, a social worker was present to provide her with emotional support. The soldiers frequently ordered captives to kill their spouses, she told us. They made parents kill their own children. 

“One of the men refused to kill his own wife,” Agnes remembers.

“So, the soldiers talked to me. They ordered me to kill that man. I hadn’t done that sin before. But the soldiers said they would kill me. So, I pretended I felt okay about doing it.” 

She knew what would happen if she didn’t: “They would beat me and urinate on my body.” 

The fear of agony, humiliation and degradation was overwhelming. Agnes forced herself to kill the man. “And that night, I started praying,” she said.

Child soldiers often carry tremendous guilt for what they were forced to do.
Photograph: Mark Nonkes

Agnes didn’t say what she prayed for. But we do know she called the murder a sin. Children can carry immense guilt for the things they were forced to do as soldiers.

Rejoining life outside

Eventually, the conflict in Agnes’ region eased.

Thanks to the ongoing commitment of Childhood Rescue supporters, World Vision was on the ground, ready to receive the children when they were released.

After three years as a child soldier, Agnes was released, along with many others. That’s when she began the hard work of rejoining life outside the militia.

Helping children who’ve survived conflict zones restore their lives is a long process. The abuse children have faced has often been cruelly varied — including extensive sexual violence for many girls.

Agnes is now receiving counselling and talking about her experiences. It’s a good first step, and a healing one. 

I want to go back to school,” Agnes says.

Your support is helping children recover; reintegrating them into their communities so they can continue their education.  

A group of girls connect at the child transit centre where conflict-affected children and youth can receive counselling, education and mentorships as they resume their lives.
Photograph: Oscar Durand

Reclaiming their lives 

No child should have experienced or witnessed the horrors Agnes has seen.

Your help can make the life-changing difference children in crisis, like Agnes, need to survive, recover and thrive. With the right support, former child soldiers can reclaim the lives that were so violently ripped away. 

We urgently need your help to protect vulnerable children, like Agnes, in dangerous places; where political instability, natural disasters and conflict threaten their safety.

Please donate now to Childhood Rescue to help the world's most vulnerable children to survive, recover and build a future. Every $1 you donate will provide $6 of urgent life-changing support to children whose lives are on the line, thanks to our partnerships with other organisations.

*Name has been changed to protect her identity.