FREETOWN, 26 February 2009 (IRIN) – Marion Kargbo was 18 when she was forced to marry a soldier of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in January 1999, in the middle of Sierra Leone’s civil war. Ten years later, RUF leaders have been found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including forced marriage – the first time a court has treated the offence as a crime separate from sexual slavery.
According to local NGOs many women and girls associated with the rebel forces, especially those not in fighting roles, were excluded from the official disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process whereby ex-combatants received money and training to help them re-enter civilian life.
This is her story, as told to IRIN:
On January 6, 1999, the rebels came to [the capital] Freetown. …The rebels came to burn the [family] house and capture us. Before they set the house on fire, they demanded my mother hand over one of her children. If she didn’t, they would kill us all.
My mother gave me to them.
The rebels took me to the provinces. Makeni [in the north]. I was raped on the way to Makeni. I was unable to walk [afterwards], I was bleeding. Seven men raped me. I was a virgin.
In Makeni I was forced to become the bush wife of CO Papa, the second commander of Scorpion Group.
I lived with him for seven months – I was forced to have sex, but also to collect firewood and water. During that time CO Papa wouldn’t let the other men touch me.
I escaped. The rebels were killing too many people. I was scared and had to escape. I was pregnant with CO Papa’s child.
A Sierra Leone army soldier escaped with me from Makeni to Madina [farther north]. The place was surrounded with RUF again [so] I left the soldier and walked to Kambia [in the west]. In Kambia I was raped again by an RUF rebel. I was still pregnant. I started bleeding. He beat me with his gun.
When I returned to Freetown, my family refused me because they say I am part of the RUF now.
A friend told me about the Forum for African Women Educationalists [FAWE, an NGO that helped victims of the war].
FAWE gave me medicines and skills training in catering. They had to convince [my family] to take me back. I was staying with [my family] but they were not treating me nice, so I left.
I stay just with my daughter. She is nine now. I am doing catering to support us. The assistance from FAWE is the only help I have received.
I have registered in the reparations programme but they did not explain to us what the reparations will be or what the criteria are. I hope my child will be educated [through the programme].
I was a witness at the [RUF] trial [but] I won’t feel anything.
My life is better now, far different. I am able to support my child.