“Child soldier in the Ivory Coast” By Gilbert G. Groud

I was twelve years old when it happened. Our village was attacked at sundown. My friends Tumaini and Amina had joined me in exploring the forest. We spent the day swimming in the river, picking fruits and climbing trees. Little did we know this would be the last day we enjoyed our childhood. We made our way home happy but pensive. Our parents would have our hides for disobeying them and going into the forest.

As we approached the village, we heard loud screams. Everyone was running around, houses were on fire. Men with guns and army uniforms stood watching the chaos and laughing. They took the children and put them into large trucks. Any parent that objected was shot. They had to watch as they drove off with us. They took us to a campsite somewhere in the forest. Scared and confused, we huddled together as they explained what they wanted from us.  We now belonged to them. We were to do anything and everything they told us.

For days, we were beaten and tortured. I dreamt of the days when I knew no pain. The more we resisted them, the worse the beatings got. I watched as the children I grew up with died, their bodies thrown into the fire. Two weeks after our abduction, I held a gun for the first time.  Was asked to shoot my friend Tumaini. He had failed to adapt to the rules. I had two choices, kill or be killed. I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. The first life I ever took was of my friend.

After months of training, I was sent on raiding missions. Killing became second nature to me. The smell of blood and burning flesh no longer bothered me. All that mattered was I did what I was asked and avoided torture. Thoughts of my family ceased to cross my mind. They were dead to me. I watched my friend Amina die. She had just turned fourteen. They said it was time she became a woman. They made us watch as they used her body over and over, brutally. The next day she took her own life. The pain and shame inflicted was too much to bear. I was now all alone, all my friends were gone.

We had to go on a raid to get new children to train. I dreaded this mission. I could not take a child and put them through all I underwent.  We got to the village and as we grabbed the children, one man stood to fight.  I found myself looking into the eyes of my father. This was his new home and we were about to destroy it again. Once again I had two choices, kill or be killed, my own flesh or my new job.

My pain, my memories all flooded my mind. I saw a way out of this life of being a child soldier. I knew this would not end well. I thought of what I would have been. My family all gone and here I was to kill my own father. Something inside me snapped and I turned the gun on my comrades. Enough was enough. I fell a few of them before a bullet hit me, my father’s face the last image I would ever see. The life of a child soldier.