Juliet was only 14 years old, home on vacation from school, when the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) invaded her town, beat and raped men, women, and children, and took her away from her family. She was raped repeatedly by one of the commanders of the LRA before being forced to marry him. Two years later, she was pregnant with his child and later endured two weeks in labor, while being forced to walk long distances and travel. The fetus eventually died inside of her, and it was days before a doctor performed an operation — with no anesthetic — to remove the body. Juliet also had to fight for the LRA. Like all the other child soldiers she lived with, she had to steal and kill to find enough food to feed herself. They would walk miles and miles every day, carrying guns and younger children on their backs and food on their heads.
However horrifying Juliet's story sounds, stories like hers are not uncommon in conflict zones. Over 250,000 young boys and girls under the age of 18 are forced to fight in war. They are taken from their families, drugged, given weapons, and told to shoot, maim and kill if they want to survive. Many do not.
Juliet is one of the lucky few that has had the opportunity to go back to school, catch up on her education, and reintegrate into society. But girls often have a much more difficult time returning to their communities than boys. Throughout Africa, where child soldiers are particularly prevalent, social ties and family relationships are incredibly important. Girls often must rely on their communities for stability, but when their images are tainted by what they endured in wartime — whether it was forced marriage, known as a "bush marriage," sexual relationships, or murder and violence — they have a much more difficult time blending in and finding a way to return to some semblance of a normal life.
Very few opportunities to better their lives are available; sometimes, the girls' families are so disgraced by what their daughters "have done," that they keep them locked up inside day after day. So what are their options? Well, according to Juliet, education is a must. And she's right. With education, these young girls will have opportunities they may otherwise never see. After all, look at Juliet: she has risen to the post of Head Girl at her school, she is well spoken, she is smart, she is ambitious, motivated and determined to make a difference and to protect young children so they never have to experience what she, and so many others, already have. The world needs a few more people like her.
But one problem, many families cannot afford school fees, and if they can, they'll send the boys first.
As Juliet travels around London sharing her story, and inspiring and teaching on the horrors of life as a child soldier, she has also taken on the ambition mission of urging the British government to invest in schooling for children returning from war. Her courage and determination is not very common amongst children that have suffered from such horrors, but her bravery will create better opportunities for the thousands of boys and girls around the world forced to fight for their lives.