Civilians in war


A presentation the two main topics addressed by Commission I of the 1995International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, namely, international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians in times of war. Presentation of the proposals submitted to the Conference with a view to ensuring better protection for women and children and combating problems such as starvation, lack of water and anti-personnel mines.


  The Conference  
  International Humanitarian Law  


 The Conference  


The Conference The XXVIth International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, to be held in Geneva from 3 to 7 December 1995, will bring together over 160 recognized National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and over 180 governments party to the Geneva Conventions. The United Nations and numerous other governmental and non-governmental organizations will attend the Conference as observers. Discussions about crucial issues of the day will take place in two Commissions. Each Commission may propose resolutions for the Conference as a whole to adopt. These resolutions determine the States'and the Movement's approach to current humanitarian issues and often influence the response to these and future crises. Commission I will concentrate on specific means of improving the plight of war victims and respect for international humanitarian law, as set out below. Commission II will focus on how best to incorporate certain universal values and principles into daily work to improve the humanitarian community's response to crises (topics to be discussed by Commission II are presented in the brochure Humanitarian Values and Response to Crises).

 Commission I: War Victims and Respect for International Humanitarian Law  

Commission I: War Victims and Respect for International Humanitarian Law will address two main subjects.

The first, entitled I nternational Humanitarian Law: from Law to Action , will constitute a follow-up to the International Conference for the Protection of War Victims, which was held at the initiative of the Swiss government in 1993. The Conference resulted in a renewed commitment by the States to refuse the inevitability of serious and massive violations of humanitarian law. At its request, the Swiss government brought together an Intergovernmental Group of Experts which formulated a series of practical recommendations to promote full respect for international humanitarian law. The Commission will discuss these recommendations with a view to adopting concrete measures to strengthen observance of the law.

The second item on the agenda, Protection of Civilian Populations in War , deals with measures to protect women and children from the effects of conflict; in this connection the deprivation of food and water in military strategies will also be discussed. Other topics will include the results of the Review Conference of the 1980 UN Weapons Convention and further steps to reduce the suffering caused by landmines, as well as a campaign for a ban on the use of blinding laser weapons. On the subject of family reunification, the Conference will request States to do their utmost to solve problems caused by the disruption of family links and urge them to recognize and facilitate the role of the Movement in reuniting families separated by armed conflict, internal strife or natural disaster. With a view to promoting international humanitarian law on naval warfare, States will be encouraged to take full account of the provisions of the San Remo Manual on humanitarian law applicable to armed conflicts at sea when issuing instructions to their naval forces.

This brochure presents the main subjec ts to be addressed by Commission I, briefly describes the problems encountered in the field and outlines the proposals which will be submitted to the Conference for consideration.


 The barbarity of our times  

The rule of law is a basic tenet of civilization. On the eve of a new millennium, we should bear in mind the relatively tardy development of certain international codes of law. For it was not until the late nineteenth century that humanitarian law began, with the help of the Movement, to be given worldwide attention.

The codification of rules for the conduct of hostilities represents a kindling of hope for a more humane future for ourselves, our offspring, our world. The development of this law is the fruit of years of tireless effort. At the International Conference for the Protection of War Victims, which was called in 1993 to draw attention to the need for greater compliance with international humanitarian law, the commitment of States to respect and ensure respect for the law was recently renewed. This process must not, however, be confined to conferences and expressions of good intent.

In recent years, the world has been shocked by the massacre in a few short weeks of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan men, women and children. Its conscience has been shaken by reports of systematic rape and " ethnic cleansing " used as a premeditated and generalized tactic in this small African nation and in the former Yugoslavia, to name just two well-publicized examples. It has been confronted with inexplicable brutality committed in conflicts in nearly every corner of the earth. While these horrors are not necessarily new in the annals of human cruelty, they are brought to us daily on our television screens. They concern us. They reflect the barbarity of our times, and we bear a collective responsibility to put a stop to them.

These horrific deeds - far from serving as an indictment of humanitarian law - actually may vindicate it. By and large, the law's provisions would be sufficient to stop such acts. It is painfully obvious that what is missing is awareness of the law and the means to enforce it. International humanitarian law is binding on States. To make it more effective, enabling legislation must be adopted in each individual country. These national laws must echo the main provisions of the international texts and introduce repressive measures, which in practice are still quite limited, to deter inhuman behaviour in conflict. Awareness campaigns for the public, the military and government officials are equally important, because a law which is not known cannot be effective. The international community's resolve to establish international tribunals for war crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia are patent signs that this universal set of rules is as topical and necessary as ever. It can only be hoped that such tribunals will in the near future be the rule and not the exception and that the law's enforcement will be as systematic as the rules themselves are intended to be universal.

To be effective in reducing the suffering of conflict victims, the law has to be constantly adapted to changing circumstances. This involves close monitoring of new technologies. We must do everything in our power to ensure that particularly cruel or indiscriminate weapons are not put to use. For this reason, the Conference will be invited to take a stand against the use of anti-personnel mines and blinding laser weapons. An outright ban would require the codification of new treaties, and it is hoped that the Conference will provide valuable impetus in this respect.

Ensuring the law's effectiveness is of crucial importance with regard to the other topics c overed by Commission I: the plight of women and children in war, the protection of water treatment facilities and the protection of civilians from famine. Some issues have been brought to the fore by recent coverage in the media, prompted either by international indignation at certain reprehensible acts, or by humanitarian organizations working in the field. Other issues have remained largely ignored, despite the urgent need for action. The Conference should give all these questions the attention they deserve.





 International humanitarian law  


 From Law action  

In spite of international treaties - the Four Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, which form the body of international humanitarian law (IHL) - the world is witnessing a daily catalogue of horrors and atrocities perpetrated against the very people these laws were designed to protect. These violations do not illustrate the inadequacy of the law, but rather that the rules are either not known to leaders and combatants or that they are quite simply disregarded. In January 1995, at the request of the International Conference for the Protection of War Victims, an Intergovernmental Group of Experts was convened to develop a series of practical recommendations to promote full respect for IHL. After consulting the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socie ties, the ICRC will report on how it has started to put into practice the recommendations which concern the institution directly and how the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent can play its part.




 Despite numerous provisions to protect them, children often suffer most from the consequences of war.  

 The recommendations and their implementation  


 Facilitate the accession of States to the instruments of IHL  

 The ICRC will press all States which have not yet done so to accede to the Geneva Conventions and especially their Additional Protocols. These steps will be carried out in close cooperation with the National Society of the country concerned.   


 Establish the customary rules of IHL  

 By calling on diverse sources and consulting legal experts, the ICRC will study which customary rules can be applied to non-international armed conflict, especially with regard to the conduct of hostilities.   


 Provide consultative services to the States to help them implement IHL and disseminate its rules and principles  

 The ICRC has already set up a structure for its consultative IHL services. The aim of these services is to provide assistance to governments to incorporate IHL into their national legislation and military training manuals and to disseminate its rules to the population at large.   


 Promote IHL  

 The ICRC will increase its cooperation with United Nations' agencies, specialized institutions and regional organizations so that the general public can be better informed of the fundamental rules of IHL.  


 Together with regional experts, the ICRC will prepare a model training manual for the armed forces to promote correct behaviour during hostilities. This work will be carried out in close cooperation with the International Federation and with National Societies.   


 Create national commissions to promote the implementation and dissemination of IHL  

 With the support of their country's National Society, States are encouraged to set up national interministerial commissions with the aim of adopting concrete measures and laws to implement and disseminate IHL. In order to promote the work and value of such commissions, the ICRC will organize a meeting in the first half of 1996 for the presidents of existing commissions together with experts and government representatives.   


 Exchange information regarding the implementation and dissemination of IHL  

 The States are invited to furnish the ICRC with information regarding the implementation and dissemination of IHL so that it can be shared with other States and thereby improve compliance. To this end, the ICRC is setting up a computerized documentation centre of the advisory services available to all States, National Societies and specialized institutions.  


 Study and finance  

 The ICRC will report on the areas of special concern identified by the experts - such as women, children and arms proliferation. A special appeal will be launched to finance all of these new implementation activities.  






Women increasingly bear the brunt of conflicts in which they rarely play a part. Like other civilians caught up in the maelstrom of war, they face shelling, famine, epidemics, forced displacement, detention, torture and execution. But women are also subjected to additional suffering which they endure with courage and dignity. In many cases, when a conflict breaks out women find themselves the sole breadwinner and pillar of the family, taking care not only of their children but also of elderly parents. They repeatedly risk their lives while searching for water and food or collecting wood in areas infested with mines or under constant shelling. Family unity often depends on these women who greatly contribute to human and social survival. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 acknowledge that women are amongst the most vulnerable members of the population and therefore explicitly contain special measures to protect them during armed conflicts. Yet, all too often there are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law causing women immeasurable suffering, both physical and psychological.




 This woman's leg was worth so little to the warring parties but it meant the world to her.  

Pregnant and breast-feeding women are particularly vulnerable. The mortality rate amongst pregnant women, nursing mothers and their newborn children often rises drastically in times of conflict. Their special needs are recognized under international humanitarian law. 

Sexual violence is certainly one of the most serious violations encountered i n wartime. Figures are hard to come by, but there is enough evidence to show that an unacceptably high number of women and young girls suffer this fate during hostilities, while in detention or as refugees. In recent conflicts rape has even been used systematically as a weapon to terrorize, humiliate or destroy entire communities. Victims of sexual aggression suffer long-term aftereffects, including severe trauma, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, and rejection by their husband, family and by the community at large. The fate of children born as a result of rape is also a matter of serious concern. 

Documented cases of rape or sexual violence in wartime only represent the tip of the iceberg. In war, as in peacetime, the stigma associated with rape and the victim's self-blame mean that the vast majority of cases go unreported. Sympathetic care and counselling for the victims are essential for women to regain their self-esteem and dignity and to facilitate their reintegration into society and family life. Unless there is greater recognition of the scourge of sexual violence, as well as public condemnation and stricter enforcement of existing national and international laws, the perpetrators can rest secure in the knowledge that their crime will go unpunished.

 Proposals for the Conference  


 At the Conference, States and National Societies will be asked to:   


 Ensure protection and assistance  

 The Conference should urge those authorities and armed forces concerned to take strong measures to provide women, and in particular those in the hands of the opposing party, with the material and moral protection and assistance to which they are entitled.   


 Condemn sexual violence     

 The Conference should condemn rape as a serious violation of humanitarian law. It should stress the fact that rape committed by combatants is a war crime and must be treated accordingly both in international and non-international conflicts.   


 Assist victims of rape  

 The Conference should encourage States and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to organize medical, psychological and social assistance programmes for victims of sexual aggression. These programmes should be run by qualified women.   


 Make the problem known  

 The Conference should encourage States and the Movement to inform the civilian population and the armed forces of the legal provisions which offer special protection to women.  


 Encourage women's participation     

 The Conference would like women to be closely involved in all aspects of their protection.  

" I was arrested in broad daylight in front of my two younger children. I will never forget that scene: suddenly a speeding jeep pulled up to my little barrow. Six men in uniform jumped out, shouting. They grabbed me by the arm. My children were screaming and hid under the barrow. That was the last I saw of them. I was thrown into the jeep and during the journey to the police station I was insulted and accused of all manner of things. I had no idea what was going on. At the police station I was asked where my husband was. I hadn't seen him since the fighting in the village five months earlier. They accused him of having attacked an ammunition depot. I couldn't believe it. My husband was a peasant, he had nothing to do with the war. Then they started ill-treating me. They humiliated me. They took pleasure in degrading me in any way they could. Afterwards, I was engulfed by shame. I felt dirty and used. Then they threatened to kill my children. The next day I heard children shouting in the room next door. They told me that they were mine. I thought I would go mad. I pleaded with them to do whatever they wanted to me but to stop hurting my children. Later I found out that it was only a tape. "





Children are undoubtedly the most vulnerable group in any community. When people's lives are torn apart by conflict, the youngest are always among those who suffer first and most profoundly from the various effects of war. Over the last ten years an estimated 1.5 million children have been killed in armed conflicts and six times as many have been made homeless. The mortality rates among children who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries are five to twelve times higher than in their home environment. In wartime, malnutrition, measles, diarrhoeal diseases and pulmonary infections can cause the death of as many as 50-95% of children under five. In addition, the psychological damage caused by war can last for the rest of their days.

Today, more youngsters bear arms than ever before. According to figures published by Save the Children Fund, some 200,000 children have been recruited as soldiers and have taken active part in a war. But if, as is the case in most countries, a child is not considered mature enough to drive a car before the age of 18, can he be consideed capable of handling a gun?

Children who have lost their families in the chaos are often " recruited " as soldiers. They may start by doing menial tasks for soldiers and end up carrying arms themselves, or they may be forcibly enrolled. In the absence of parental guidance they can have little notion of what is right or wrong. This has been amply illustrated in Liberia and Sierra Leone, for example, where indoctrinated nine-year-olds are given weapons and incited to commit atrocious acts, often under the influence of drugs and alcohol. These children, their own childhood warped and ruined, often inspire greater fear among others than their adult brothers-in-arms. This was the case in many situation, among others in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, when atrocities were carried out on a large scale by child soldiers who, owing to their age, could not understand the dimension of such acts and could therefore be easily manipulated. Child soldiers often end up in captivity like their adult counterparts. They and other children may be detained because they commit a crime, they may be caught up in events, or they may simply follow their parents into prison. According to ICRC figures, around 300 children under 15 years old were detained in Rwanda in May 1995. Some had accompanied their parents into detention, others - as young as eight - were accused of taking part in the genocide. Whatever the reason for their detention, children are entitled to special treatment under humanitarian law and must be provided with accommodation in separate quarters from adults, adequate food and medical care and a continuing education. Separated families are a common phenomenon in wartime, and unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable. Their parents may have been detained, or they may have left their children in orphanages or with friends or relatives, hoping to protect them. Very often the smallest are lost in the mayhem when their parents flee in panic from imminent danger.

 Proposals for the Conference  


 At the Conference, States and National Societies will be asked to:   


 Respect and ensure respect for rules protecting children  

 The Conference should encourage States to do their utmost to respect and ensure respect for rules protecting children in armed conflict as contained in international humanitarian law treaties (the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  


 Raise the age limit on the participation of children in hostilities  

 The Conference should support efforts to improve this protection by raising the age limit on children's participation in hostilities through the adoption of an optional protocol to the aforesaid Convention.   


 Protect and assist child victims of armed conflicts  

 The Conference should fully endorse and support the Movement's recent efforts to protect and assist child victims of armed conflicts as proposed in the Plan of Action submitted to the Council of Delegates.  

" John is one of the luckier ones. He is 15. He used to be a fighter in the ranks of one of the factions, but now he is back in a school programme organized by a local NGO. To return to school is the dream of most former child soldiers I have met in Liberia. But John finds it difficult to realize this dream. He ta kes drugs from habit, and to drive out from his mind and mouth the taste of human blood he says he drank in one of the rituals of the ragtag unit he belonged to. "


" Sam looks about 10 years old to me but proudly claims to be 13. He used to be a fighter. " A brave one " , he says, after he had lost his fear. Before his first attack, he told me, he was very much afraid. Then he swallowed a pill and felt good and strong, and he fought well. Before his second attack he swallowed another pill and again fought well. After the third attack he was convinced that he was a courageous fighter, and he needed no more pills.


Now he needs a different kind of courage, and all the help he can get, to go to school again and to live in an orphanage. "


 An ICRC delegate spoke to these boys in a place of detention and a home for unaccompanied children in Liberia. The names have been changed.  





Since the World Food Conference in Rome in 1974, war-induced famine has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in more than 15 countries. Despite enormous progress in the development of more resistant crops, fertilizers an d agricultural techniques, food crises and famine have not yet been eradicated. Famine is rarely the result of climatic conditions, but rather a man-made disaster, either alone or combined with natural catastrophes. It occurs when the traditional crisis-coping mechanisms of a group are put out of action by conflict. Starvation and death are often the end of the road, particularly if the weakened individuals are unable to fight off disease and other aggressions.

Chronic malnutrition, on the other hand, is widespread and often caused by underdevelopment and socio-economic disruption. It affects the most vulnerable groups, especially children whose physical and intellectual growth is thus impaired.

These afflictions have to be fought on four fronts: prevention; preparedness and detection; combined emergency and development assistance; and subsequent evaluation.

Famine could be largely prevented by promoting respect for humanitarian law which prohibits food deprivation, and by combining sustainable development with efficient food security mechanisms.

Preparedness measures such as the development of human resources and the setting up of buffer stocks are being taken to cope with emergencies. Early warning systems and the appropriate mechanisms for consecutive rapid action are also key elements.

The appropriate strategy to enable people to " survive today and stay alive tomorrow " should be implemented, from food aid to socio-economic recovery.

Finally the strategies for famine prevention and disaster mitigation as well as programme design and implementation, have to be evaluated without complacency. Accountability to donors and particularly to victims calls for pressure to be put on all sides so that the lessons of the past are learnt in order to improve the future.

 Proposals for the Conference  


 At the Conference, States and National Societies will be asked to:   


 Reaffirm the prohibition to use starvation as a method of combat     

 The resolution adopted by the Council of Delegates in Budapest in 1991 reminds the authorities concerned of their obligation to apply international humanitarian law, for if it is respected in conflict situations it will suffice to avert or limit famine. In particular it is prohibited to use starvation as a method of combat; to attack, destroy or remove the means indispensable to the survival of the population; or to displace civilians unless their security or imperative military reasons make it necessary. If displacement proves unavoidable, satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, safety and nutrition have to be ensured for the displaced.   


 Urge the parties to armed conflict to maintain conditions which will allow civilians to provide for their needs and not deprive them of their food sources or of access to their crops  


 Remind the authorities of their obligation to allow humanitarian and impartial relief operations for civilians when essential supplies are lacking  



" With the end of the herds comes the end of man " . Abdi, a Somali nomad, has seen herds plundered or infected by disease after the war interrupted veterinary services. His she-camels, bitten by ticks, produced less milk every day. To feed his family Abdi had to sell one goat a week. " Before the war one goat was worth four bags of rice, now we only get two bags for it " . Without the ICRC veterinary programme he would have had to sell his milk-producing camels. And then " sink to the humiliation of queuing in the food distribution lines of a refugee camp " .




Angola, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, Yemen and Bosnia-Herzegovina are some of the countries most seriously affected by shortages of clean water brought about by war. Recent experience has shown that damage done to water installations during hostilities has tragic consequences for civilians. Contaminated water and lack of water can be more deadly than a whole array of weapons. The destruction of water sources also causes the displacement of civilians, threatens crops and livestock and greatly increases the risk of epidemics and illness.




 Collecting water from standpipes in the street becomes part of the tedious routine.  

Water installations, and especially modern ones, are particularly vulnerable to attack in conflict. Sometimes they are targeted deliberately, with the effect of inducing civilians to flee. Sometimes they suffer indirectly from attacks on other parts of the infrastructure which are considered military objectives resulting in electricity cuts and shortages o f fuel and chemical products. At times, the personnel in charge of restoring water distribution installations find themselves under fire.

Refugees and displaced persons are especially prone to water-borne diseases, as they are then dependent on unhygienic or unreliable water sources.

The imposition of sanctions over extended periods has made it difficult if not impossible to restore proper water treatment facilities in some countries; such is the case, for example, in Iraq.

In 1991 the intensive bombing of power stations and " collateral damage " to water treatment facilities reduced much of Iraq's infrastructure to rubble and in a few short weeks led to an unprecedented emergency: millions of people were deprived of clean water. But the damage did not end there. The embargo, which has now lasted for over four years, has seriously affected civilian water distribution systems by drastically reducing both the production and the expected service life of water treatment installations. Spares cannot be found, qualified personnel are lacking and raw materials are in short supply. It has become virtually impossible to maintain and renew the system. In such circumstances, almost all of the limited resources available have been concentrated on efforts to provide clean drinking water, to the detriment of sewage treatment. This will have tragic long-term effects on the environment and will of course complicate future water treatment as well.

 Proposals for the Conference  


 At the Conference, States and National Societies will be asked to:   


 Extend legal protection     

 The Conference should call on all belligerents to abstain from attacking water treatment plants and distribution systems for civilian use and the staff engaged in repairing and maintaining them.   


 Limit the damage of embargoes     

 The Movement should draw the attention of the international community to the dire effects for civilians of wide-ranging embargoes imposed for extended periods, and should call on it to take these effects into account when formulating future policies.   


 Make the problem known  

 The Conference should specifically mention the duty of all States to make known the exisiting legal provisions which protect water facilities and staff working in them. The Movement should undertake a major programme to spread knowledge of these provisions and to emphasize the importance of protecting water from use as a weapon in conflicts.  



Aden, Yemen: " During the war, the army damaged pumping stations outside of Aden, so no water was brought to the city. The situation soon became critical. One day some ICRC delegates came to the mosque. They discussed the problem, and then installed a pump, set up two large water tanks on the roof and deployed a network of pipes in the street outside. The water was pumped, stored and distributed to the people. To keep it working during power cuts they also set up a generator and left a barrel of fuel. People started coming as soon as the taps were in place. They came night and day, and the wait lasted for hours. We posted more staff to keep an eye on the pump and make sure the water level didn't drop in the tanks. Three teams had to work eight-hour shifts to keep the well running around the clock. "

 An Imam at a mosque in Aden  




During the five days in which delegates will gather for the XXVIth International Conference some 500 people will die or lose limbs as a result of anti-personnel mines. Throughout the world 110 million mines are lying in wait for someone - whether a soldier or civilian, friend or foe, adult or child - to step their way. Mines are " perfect soldiers " : they are always at their posts, never sleep and never miss, even when hostilities have long since ended. But they are also perverse and totally ignorant of international humanitarian law.






 Whilst playing or doing their chores, children fall prey to the cruelty of mines.  

Half of all mine victims die on the site within minutes of the blast. Only a small fraction reach a medical facility. Those who survive see their potential for work, marriage and children cut short, and their acceptance in community life jeopardized. Carrying out amputations and providing victims with prostheses and rehabilitation is costly in terms of time, skills and materials. But still, the best prosthesis in the world can never replace a lost limb. The orthopaedic work of the ICRC and other humanitarian organizations should never be considered as a solution to the ravages caused by mines. They merely treat the symptoms and not the root causes.

Local and national economies bear a heavy burden as roads remain impassable and thousands of acres of arable land lie untended for years because farmers cannot venture into their fields. Anti-personnel mines may cause the collapse of entire economies and plunge already poor countries even deeper into the morass of dependence and poverty. 

In January 1995 a Group of Governmental Experts proposed amendments for the Review Conference of the 1980 UN Weapons Convention, to be held in Vienna in September 1995. The Group recommended that the Convention's restrictions on the use of landmines be extended to apply to internal armed conflicts; that all anti-personnel mines be detectable; that remotely delivered mines and all anti-personnel mines used outside of marked, guarded and fenced minefields have a self-destruct mechanism; and that the parties which use mines be held responsible for their removal.

Although the ICRC welcomes these steps, they also fear that the proposed restrictions are too complex and too weak. So-called " dumb " mines without a self-destruct mechanism will still be available and are likely to continue to be used indiscriminately. If combined with a lack of agreement on verification and enforcement measures, there is a danger that the steps taken by the Review Conference will fail to bring any significant reduction in civilian casualties. Therefore, the ICRC and the International Federation remain convinced that a total ban on the production, possession, transfer and use of anti-personne l mines is the only effective means of addressing this global disaster.



 Will this boy ever have the opportunity of earning his own keep?  

 Proposals for the Conference  


 At the Conference, States and National Societies will be asked to:   

 Prohibit or restrict the use of anti-personnel mines   


 Consider the results of the Review Conference and the next steps to be taken to further protect civilians from the appalling effects of anti-personnel mines  



" I went into the forest to collect firewood. I knew that the area had previously been mined but the army had cleared it. I heard a click and then everything went black. I didn't feel or hear anything when the mine exploded. Friends found me and carried me to the main road. A truck took me to the nearest hospital. It took six hours to get there. The doctor amputated both legs above the knee. I only realized what had happened a few days after the operation. I wanted to kill myself. Life had no meaning whatsoever. I felt utterly despondent. How could I ever find a husband? How could I earn a living? "


 Choy now lives with her parents. She helps out whenever she can but she has still not found a husband or a job. In the dry season her niece pushes her wheelchair, but once the rains start the wheels get clogged up in the mud. She still feels that she has no prospects for the future.