Gloria Sherman was 13 years old when Charles Taylor‘s soldiers came for her in 2001. Flushed from her hiding place in the bush outside her village in Lofa, northern Liberia, she was forced to watch as her father and brother were skinned alive. Then she was taken into a captivity lasting nearly two years: a conscript child soldier and a sexual slave in the former president’s army.
She is 18 now, but the memories are still raw. “We used to do bad, bad things that they told us to do,” she said last week. “Sometimes even if you were only 10 years old they would put guns and ammunition on your head to carry to the battle; you have to do what they said or they’d kill you. They killed many children, many girls. All the time many soldiers would have sex with you, every night they would come and have sex and beat you, and if you said no they would kill you or hit you with guns.”
Two years of systematic rape and beatings have left Gloria with jagged scars and internal injuries so severe that she has little chance of ever becoming a mother. When she managed to escape from her captors and make her way back to her village, she found that she was now an outcast.
Labelled a “rebel wife” and accused of collaborating in the violence inflicted on her village by drugged and ruthless soldiers during the war, she says that the only way she can survive is by having sex with men – NGO workers, government officials and businessmen – who often pay her in food, sanitary towels or soap.
“They say we are bad girls because of what we did in the war and what we do now,” Gloria said. “But they took me and I had no choice.”
This is an edited extract of an article on Liberia’s former child soldiers first published in The Observer on 12 July 2009. Click here to read the original article in full and to watch the video.