Liberian Child Soldiers

The very early history of the country now known as Liberia is built around stories and legends passed down through generations and these refer to a people called the Jinna, a small sized race who lived in caves and in the carved out hollows of large trees.

They were later joined in pre-history by the Golas, a tribe that had migrated to the area from central Africa. Then around 6000 BCE tribes from western Sudan arrived defeating the Golas and establishing an empire under King Kumba. The Kumbas developed agriculture in the area but were also noted for their skills at making weapons as well as crafts such as pottery and weaving.

It is estimated that around 21,000 Liberian child soldiers, including 2000 girls, were in action during the fourteen year long civil war, some as young as six, however  69% were 15 to 17 years old serving an average of four years, whilst a further 27% were between 12 and 14 years old. Few joined up willingly however the majority were abducted and forced to fight on all sides on pain of death. Some of these children were living in refugee camps in Guinea and the Ivory Coast. One of these younger recruits, a 12 yr old describes his experiences:

"I was playing football outside with some other young boys. Government soldiers came and said rebels had reached Lofa bridge. Commander Fasou [sic] was in charge of the group and they picked up 24 young boys. We were tied and put in a truck and carried to Lofa highway. I was taught how to shoot an AK 47. I fired a gun but I am not sure if I hit anyone. Some of my friends went to fight; some were wounded and some died. I was a ‘Small Boys Unit’ deputy commander. I wasn’t beaten or ill-treated but soldiers harassed civilians, beat them and looted their things. The commander told the small boys not to do this but those behind the commander were doing it. During World War I, we came to Monrovia.

"While I was fighting, I saw my aunt, who was displaced, running. I asked where my mother was and she said that she had gone to Buchanan. I asked my commander for permission to take my aunt to the displaced camp. Then, I returned and fought in World War II. During World War III we ran out of ammunition.



 
 
 
 
 
 


Liberian Child Soldiers

Liberian Child Soldiers

Liberian Child Soldiers

Liberian Child Soldiers

 


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Liberian Child Soldiers

People were saying Charles Taylor should leave. We were not receiving any new supplies. I asked my commander if I could go to find my aunt and look for my mother. Then ECOMIL came and Taylor left. In September my commander let me go and I came with my aunt to ‘Titanic’. We are suffering here with no toilet, no safe drinking water or a hand pump. I want to go back to school." Again, the words of a 12 yr old boy.

Liberian Child Soldiers Children were recruited during the Liberian civil war because they were perceived as free and expendable labour, often being sent on one-way missions but too young, frightened and naive to understand the dangers. As one militia commander noted "They can fight more than we the big people….It’s hard for them to just retreat." his inexperience also put them at risk of being killed by their own weapons or those of the opposing forces.

One 14 year old boy stated "I used an AK 47; the adults used RPGs and other bigger weapons. I fired the gun but am not sure if I killed people. On the road enemy soldiers came and I tried to run away but a rocket hit my leg. Four people were wounded and some others died in the attack. Government soldiers came and took me to Phebe hospital. After a week and two days an ambulance from JFK hospital came to pick me up. At JFK they amputated my leg."

At the end of the war, many Liberian child soldiers were allowed to leave their fighting units, whilst others fled. Some found their families, others moved onto the streets whilst some ended up in displacement camps. Whilst they could leave the fighting and their weapons behind, the brutalisation would never go away for some. Hardly surprising when 87% had seen a family member killed, 60% had seen other children beaten to death whilst 84% reported that they had experienced being "surrounded by, lying underneath or stepping on" dead bodies.

Already a poor nation before the war, Liberia was simply ill-equipped for reconstruction after the war, and certainly did not have the resources, mainly human resources, to address the needs of emotionally and often physically scarred children with many of them seen as pariahs in their own communities.

As one girl stated "I think about my father and my brother every day and my sister who I haven't seen since she was taken by rebels ... When I close my eyes, all I can see is the war. I often think about taking my own life. It would have been better if I'd died in the war, but I am still alive and I hope one day something will be different and I will be a good person."

A UN report on the civil war in Liberia issued as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed laid bare the true extent of the use of Liberian child soldiers in the bloody conflict when it stated "one out of every 10 Liberian children may have been recruited into the war effort. Liberian children have suffered all kinds of atrocities, sexual violence, disruption of schooling and forced displacement".

 
 


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