Child Soldiers of Sierra Leone Research Paper

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Such jobs would put the children in potentially the most dangerous and deadly of the jobs available. Failing to perform tasks to the approval of superiors, whether that be fetching firewood, carrying ammunition, or committing a murder, would invariably lead to severe punishments. There were even reports of young girls being killed for failing to cook properly (Denov 2005,-page 3). Among the most common forms of punishment was the severing of limbs by someone who had committed an infraction to the displeasure of rebel leaders (Zack-William 2001,-page 73). Pictures from the area abound which show young boys and girls, even some infants, who are missing hands or feet because they have upset their superiors. The children are most often trained as violent soldiers, who take up the first wave in armed interaction, leading to a high percentage of casualties, many of them fatalities. The children were taught not that they were killing enemies, but that they were defending themselves against death by another group of soldiers.

According to recovered child soldier Ishmael Beah, there became a point where the violence to which the children were exposed becomes an everyday matter. This was one of the goals of the rebel leaders, to acclimate the children to murder to the point where their actions were mundane and ordinary rather than harrowing. He writes on one fight with another child, "I wasn't sure whether he was unconscious or dead…No one screamed or cried during the fight. After all, we had been doing such things for years and were all still on drugs" (Beah 2007). Children were taught that they would either kill or be killed. Death and murder were not something to be mourned or concerned about. It was as normal as eating or sleeping, just a part of life.

Drug use is rampant among factions which utilize child soldiers. By providing large quantities of alcohol and other narcotics, children become more easily coerced into actions which they might otherwise not agree to. The secondary purpose of this drug introduction is to make the children addicted to whatever drugs are being offered (Denov 2005,-page 4). In this way, they become dependent upon the adults as providers of the narcotic to which they are addicted. If they do not follow the orders of their military superiors then they will be injured or killed, which works as a deterring factor at first but once the children become immune to the violence and no longer fear death, this is no longer a convincing argument. However, the potential refusing of drugs and subsequent withdrawal will be an effective way of keeping the child soldiers subservient and obedient to authority. The drugs also have the effect of subduing the children and encouraging them to commit acts that they may not do sober. Among the more atrocious things committed by rebel leaders is the massive insertion of narcotics into children's bodies shortly before an attack. According to a report by the British Broadcasting Channel (BBC) (2001):

One boy, 12-year-old Osman, has a scar deep into his forehead. The rebels often use a machete to cut into the skull. They then fill the wound with drugs and tape it over. High for days, the children are sent to the front and fight, little knowing, understanding or caring what they are doing (Sierra page 1).

This kind of inhumanity is commonplace for children reared in Sierra Leone. No one is left without either physical or emotional scars from the actions of the guerilla rebels in the African nation.

Gender has not excused any child from military service. Often, young girls are forced into the militia along with their male counterparts. Unlike the boys, however, little girls are not only forced to kill, but they are also forced to perform sexual activities both with young boys and with adult men, serving as "solder wives" and an incentive for young men to perform even more heinous acts (Wessells 1997,-page 2). All girls who have been interviewed have reported that they were sexually violated as a matter of routine. Those who were forcibly paired off with ranking officers of the rebel army were often in better shape than their unrestricted counterparts. These girls, also referred to as "bush marriages" or "AK-47 marriages" would be able to acquire more food and better shelter (Denov 2005,-page 4). Many of these girls then became pregnant but because of the squalid conditions and lack of food, very few of these infants survived longer than a few days and in most cases the mother died as well. Those children that did survive would find themselves part of the vicious cycle of the rebel army. As soon as a child was old enough to hold a weapon, they would become part of the militia. Grenades were given to the very young because they required the least amount of coordination to be set off.

How Child Soldiers Can be Returned to Civilization:

In 1995, UNICEF had become involved in the issue of child soldiers. Reporter Mike Wessells said that he had visited Grafton Camp in Sierra Leone and investigated these children who had been demobilized. According to Wessells (1997):

Many of the boys, ranging from nine to 16 years of age, had killed people as they fought in a civil war that [had been] paused with a fragile cease-fire in 1995. The camp director said that when the youths had been given drugs -- most likely, amphetamines -- while soldiering, they "would do just about anything that was ordered." Some, [the director] added, were proud of having been effective killers (page 1).

Wessells was most amazed to see that only after a relatively short period with the people of UNICEF, the children, who had just a short time before been blood-thirsty assassins, were now playing with one another in cooperative play. At the core of each of these children was an innocent who had only committed acts of violence because they had not been taught either to have a moral compass or to dare to question the orders of their elders.

For children who are able to escape from army life, there is no guarantee that they will be able to return to a normal existence. Many of them are forced to reenter the military either through force or through lack of opportunities. Some children have reported that when they escaped and returned to their families, the adults of the villages would kick them out either through fear that the army would come looking for the children or from fear of the danger that a killer child posed to the villagers (Richardson 2006). Females are especially marginalized when they return to their homes. Since they have been sexually violated, the girls are considered unclean and no longer worthy of familial life.

Even after the issue of child soldiers became internationally known, there were still guerilla factions which employed the practice. By 1997, children had once again begun training to kill others on the orders of adults. A large percentage of the people in the guerilla army of Sierra Leone are under the age of 18 (Wessells 1997,-page 1). Documentation exists to prove that child soldiers are being used in much of Africa and frequently in the Middle East. Recently, children have been used as human shields for those committing acts of violence in the Gaza Strip, leading to further international attention to the crisis of child soldiers throughout undeveloped countries of the world.

The issue of children as soldiers is still very much alive even though the world is aware and modern technologies allow for more documentation of the practice. In June of 2007, the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, was indicted for illegally recruiting soldiers under the age of 15 to fight in Sierra Leone (Doek 2009). The Child Rights Act of June 2007 made it illegal in Sierra Leone to use people under the age of 18 in any military endeavor. In the same year three other former guerilla leaders were found guilty of war crimes, including the usage of child soldiers during the Civil War of Sierra Leone (Shepler 2005,-page 199). This was the first time in history that anyone had been convicted of the forcible use of children in violent action by a militia, setting a precedent that will hopefully impact the practice throughout the world. Special prosecutor for the case David Crane was quoted as saying, "This particular judgment sets the cornerstone forever -- those who recruit children into an armed force are criminally liable" (Roy-Macauley 2007,-page 2). It is hoped that the knowledge that the use of child soldiers will be considered as a crime against humanity will deter the practice both in Sierra Leone and throughout the rest of the world.


Despite these many progressions, it is believed, and indeed documented, that guerrilla groups are still using children as soldiers throughout the world. With increased technology, international…

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