Last week, the founder of one of our partner organizations was in town for a visit. He and his family came over for dinner and shared their hearts concerning their ministry’s rescue of child soldiers in Southeast Asia, especially in the wake of the cyclone that caused so many more vulnerable orphans in the region. Southeast Asia boasts approximately 100,000 child soldiers, with the majority being sold, stolen or tricked into conscription in Burma.
Here is one of the stories that they share, from a young girl who managed to escape the clutches of a militaristic regime:
"Please excuse my tears…they must fall because there are many things I cannot say. My tears must speak for me.
My parents were drug traffickers, but they were addicts, too. I think some of you have seen what drugs can do. They make you a slave to their hunger, and eventually a thief and a beggar…that is what happened to my father. Last I knew, he was begging on the streets. I have been a thief, too, but I am not begging yet.
Having no good place to go as a teenager, I was recruited into the army when I was 15 years old. There were about 200 of us. We lived on a tall hill with gray walls that stretched high over our heads. The barracks were very close to the capital city and a long way from home. There were soldiers that stood guard along those walls. The guards were not there to protect us. They were there to keep us in.
Every day we built guns. At 5:00 AM every day, we did our morning run. By 8:00 AM, we were constructing guns. My job was to clean them. We were a munitions factory. But we were also soldiers. Some of us were very young, very small, even 3 years old. Others had lived there so long that they were over 30 years old. Many of us were girls. "Obey!" our bosses said. We had many bosses. Obedience: that was the motto. If we tried to escape, well, the guards would shoot.
Everybody rotated through guard duty at different intervals through the night. Every night the drill signal sounded and we had to hustle out of bed, rush into our uniform and be in parade formation within 30 seconds. How easy is that? Those who were late were beaten. We hit them too, because if they got there in time, we didn’t have to drill that next day. But that happened about as often as a chicken goes a day without pecking the dust for food. Almost every night we were drilled, so we slept lightly. Sometimes we had to run to a village in the dark of night with guns or crawl through trenches in the mud and rain…everybody 13 and older that is. The littlest kids were our gophers. They ran errands for everybody during the day.
Everybody was under tight security. We were not even allowed to smile or the stick would come down on us. Of course, you learned quickly not to smile. Some felt the stick for other things. I watched people beaten for escaping to make love in the field. I watched others beaten till they bled and died in front of my eyes.
One day I ran away. I was scared, but I did not die. Now I can’t go back to my people. I am so troubled because of the things I have seen and done.
I can speak no words that shield me from the pain…so I will not speak. My many tears will speak for me."