Books

Child Soldier

China Keitetsi (London: Souvenir Press Ltd.,2004)

Wednesday 9 July 2008, by Naomi Van Rampelberg

Child Soldier describes Keitetsi’s experiences as a child soldier in Uganda as part of Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), who fought a guerilla war against President Milton Obote’s government in the 1980s. Keitetsi describes how after leaving home to look for her biological mother, she found herself being recruited by the NRA along with many other children. As a young, innocent, and hopeful 8 year-old child, Keitetsi recalls how she found a distinct sense of ‘family’ and belonging in the army, something that had, until then, been absent in her life.

Initially, she embraces the new life of a soldier, constantly seeking power and respect, doing whatever is necessary to be recognized and to rise through the ranks. However, as time passes, the realities of war: torture, gruesome killings and endless promises about a better future, make her realize that her individuality and humanity have been stripped away. She begins to question what she and her comrades have been fighting for.

Keitetsi also discusses the brutal sexual abuse that took place within the NRA. Unable to protect herself from being raped, and after years of feeling completely defenseless with no control over her life and body, Keitetsi finally refuses the sexual advances of a senior officer, and, thereafter, is accused of treason. Already a 14-year-old mother, China flees Uganda but has to leave her son behind. Escaping to Kenya, then to South Africa, her case is taken-up by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

There are an estimated 300,000 children involved in wars across over a dozen countries in Africa and Asia alone, Child Soldier is a gripping account of China Keitetsi’s life as she discusses many issues which all child soldiers have in common. In Child Soldier, China discusses her life, including politics, family, the army, sexual abuse, motherhood, and seeking asylum. What makes the book even more interesting is that it is written in her idiom. Now, Keitetsi aims to establish an orphanage for child soldiers in order to facilitate their reintegration into society. Her supporters include the UN Children’s Fund, Amnesty International, and Oxfam. China Keitetsi is a true inspiration, a fighter and survivor; having grown-up feeling constant fear, believing that the whole world was against her, and that she had no future, today she travels the world speaking out on behalf of all child soldiers.

Naomi Van Rampelberg is an artist in Montreal.

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