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Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone

By NandEks Feb 28, 2013 2522 Words
Sierra Leone Background

The Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone (RUF/SL) invaded Sierra Leone from Liberia in March 1991. Initially they claimed to be a political movement supporting ‘liberation’ and ‘democracy. Instead the RUF, in reality, was an insecurely combined organization of mainly rebellious young people that inflicted mortal disaster throughout the country of Sierra Leone. The political revolution message failed to attract popular support, the RUF board on a barbarian ten-year civil war that had devastating consequences for civilians, in particular children.

General Information about Child Soldiers

The numbers of child soldiers are continually variable given the growth of diverse armed conflicts. The number of children under the age of 18 who have been forced or induced to take up arms as child soldiers is commonly thought to be around of 300,000. Non-governmental military organizations tend to recruit soldiers under the age of 15.Governmental armed forces, on the other hand, are more likely to recruit soldiers under the age of 18. From what is known the age of 7 is the youngest a child soldier can be. Over 50 countries currently take on children under the age of 18 into their militia.

[pic]

Figure 1. The African situation since Africa has without any doubt the largest number of child soldiers[1]

What is a Child Soldier?

UNICEF, The United Nations Children Fund, defines child soldiers as "any child—boy or girl—under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity[2].

According to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers: “Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including participation in combat, laying mines and explosives; scouting, spying, acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training, drill or other preparations; logistics and support functions, portering, cooking and domestic labour; and sexual slavery or other recruitment for sexual purposes.”[3]

Girls are also called child soldiers and this is the case for many reasons. Girls usually fulfil numerous roles. While they are commonly recruited and used for sexual purposes, they are almost always also caught up in other military responsibilities. These include fighting, laying explosives, portering, and performing domestic tasks.

How many child soldiers are there?

It is difficult to give a worldwide number of child soldiers at any one time. There are various reasons as to why exact figures cannot be calculated. An example is that military commanders frequently mask children or do not allow access to observers. Armed groups regularly operate in dangerous, unapproachable zones to which observers do not have access and many children carry out support roles and are therefore not visible in military operations.

How do children become soldiers?

A special report on the impact of armed conflict on children which was created in 1996 explained how children become soldiers. In the report it is stated ‘Hunger and poverty may drive parents to offer children for service or attract children to volunteer as a way to guarantee regular meals, clothing or medical attention. Some children become soldiers to protect themselves or their families in the face of violence and chaos around them, while others, particularly adolescents, are lured by ideology. Children also identify with social causes, religious expression, self-determination, national liberation or the pursuit of political freedom, as in South Africa or the occupied territories." [4] Another reason emphasizes the efficient value of children, especially for tedious tasks. An important explanation to keep in mind could be that child soldiers may be valuable for signalling purposes. A rebel leader may hope to show significance, commitment or terror through abduction of a child[5]. Finally, some people insist that young children are more malleable, adaptable, and obedient, as well as more easily persuaded and deceived. Therefore they are said to be easier to manage and retain[6]. If children are as productive as adults, we should find a disproportionate number in armed groups.

The following two case studies give examples of what a girl and a boy have gone through during Sierra Leone’s devastating civil war. By describing their tasks, the reasons as to why these violate Human Rights can be clearly seen.

Case Study: Fatmata

Fatmata was one of only two survivors from her village in Sierra Leone. She was barely six years old when she was captured by the cruel rebel groups. She was taken to a rebel stronghold and forced to work under harsh conditions as a servant. In Fatmata’s own words: "We had to work all day while they would curse my mother and abuse me”. When she got older, Fatmata was forced to become the second wife of one of her rebel captors, therefore meaning she was raped and gave birth to the child of a rebel.[7]

Case Study: Ishmael Beah

In ‘A Long Way Gone’: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a successfully enthralling story of his life as a child soldier. At the age of twelve, he fled from rebel attacks and wandered a land caused to be unrecognizable by brutality. By thirteen, he had been captured by the government army, and Beah, even though he was a gentle young boy at heart, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. At sixteen, he was taken away from fighting by UNICEF. Beah, like many other child soldiers, had gone through devastating psychological traumas and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation centre, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity and was finally able to heal.[8]

Human Rights

According to the Truth and Reconciliations commissions report the use of local as well as international human rights mechanisms in responding to the shocking criminal acts that took place in Sierra Leone during the previous decade is important to the development of international human rights law[9]. Sierra Leone became a member of the United Nations in 1961 and is a signatory to most of the important human rights committees including the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The Government of Sierra Leone has also ratified the optional protocol. Children Rights Act has been enacted in Sierra Leone quite recently in 2007. The Government of Sierra Leone signed and ratified the Protocol on 8 September 2000 and 15 May 2002.

Convention to the Rights of a Child

The Convention to the Rights of a Child (CRC) is built on diverse legal systems as well as cultural traditions. The Convention is a universally agreed set of fixed standards and obligations. These human rights set the least amount of pre-emptive declaration and freedoms that should be valued by governments. In Article 38, the Convention on the Rights of the Child insist that governments to take all possible measures to guarantee that children under 15 have no direct involvement in warfare. The Convention also sets 15 years as the minimum age at which a person can be willingly recruited into or willingly signs up in the armed forces.[10]

Optional Protocol

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the contribution of children in armed conflict symbolizes a progressive leap in the international law in order to defend children from the damaging effects of recruitment and use in warfare. The Protocol requires States who authorize it to obtain all practicable measures to make sure those members who are part of their armed forces and are under the age of 18 do not have a direct involvement in the fighting’s. States must also raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into the armed forces from 15 years but does not require a minimum age of 18. The Protocol reminds States that children under 18 years are entitled to distinctive protection and so any voluntary recruitment under the age of 18 must include adequate protection. Compulsory recruitment below the age of 18 is fully banned and States parties must also take legal measures to forbid self-governing armed groups from recruiting and using children under the age of 18 in conflicts.[11] ARTICLE 1 of the Optional Protocol: ‘States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities.’ This shows that the Protocol raised the age that children are allowed to be a member of an illegal or legal armed force from 15 years to 18 years.

UNICEF and ‘The International Rescue Committee’ and how they have helped

In Sierra Leone, UNICEF was the lead agency for child protection, which worked with its colleagues to reduce arms, and to release and reconnect process for child soldiers from 1998 to 2002.They construct protective and healthy educational environments where former child soldiers obtain the opportunity to learn how to live without weapons, gain new skills which enables them to be prepared for their future and to learn how to become prolific citizens in their society. Most importantly they are given a second chance to learn how to be children again. Demobilized children were moved to temporary care centres supported by UNICEF where they were given health care and also psychosocial counselling. They also participated in educational and recreational activities while family tracing reunification was going on. A vast majority of former child soldiers have been reunited with their families. Access to education and family and community support programmes have been the key to their success to help the former child soldiers[12].

With headquarters in Freetown and three field offices in Kono, Kenema and Kailhaun districts, the International Rescue Committee provides programs that focus on child protection, education, and health, specifically for former child soldiers after the civil war ended in 2000. The IRC works to increase local participation in project activities, build local capacity, promote and protect human rights, partner with local communities and organizations, and address relief and development needs in a holistic fashion. The Revolutionary United Front rebels released 600 child soldiers. The International Rescue Committee provided education, skills training, and psychosocial care to 100 of them[13].

Conclusion

To conclude, there have been many programmes that have been created to reduce and assist former child soldiers. Off course it is not possible to help every single child soldier and there are many reasons for this. Some of the reasons are that there are still a number of these soldiers that may still be involved and their whereabouts are not known. During the civil war, many of the parents of these children were killed, so it is difficult to reunite them with their families, and if they are lucky another family member may still be alive in order to look after them. Organisations, like UNICEF, provide homes for former child soldiers who are unlucky to not have anybody. By education and counselling, children learn to forgive themselves for violent crimes they were forced to commit and help themselves to progress in the future.

REFERENCES

• Beah, I (2007). ‘A Long Way Gone’: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Harper Perennial. p5-218.

• Beber, B and Blattman, C. (2010). The Industrial Organization of Rebellion: The Logic of Forced Labor and Child Soldiering*. Available: http://chrisblattman.com/documents/research/2010.IOofRebellion.pdf. Last accessed 6th December 2010.

• Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers. (2007). Questions and Answers. Available: http://www.child-soldiers.org/childsoldiers/questions-and-answers. Last accessed 1st December 2010.

• Michael Odeh and Colin Sullivan. Children in Armed Conflict. Available: http://www.yapi.org/rpchildsoldierrehab.pdf. Last accessed 8th December 2010.

• Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1990). Convention on the Rights of the Child . Available: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm. Last accessed 8th December 2010.

• Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2000). Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Available: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc-conflict.htm. Last accessed 8th December 2010.

• Report of the Sierra Leone Truth & Reconciliation Commission. (2004). Children and the Armed Conflict in Sierra Leone. Vol. 3B, p231-340.

• Spagnoli, F. (2008). Human Rights Quote (49): Child Soldiers. Available: http://filipspagnoli.wordpress.com/stats-on-human-rights/statistics-on-war-conflict/statistics-on-child-soldiers/. Last accessed 8th December 2010.

• UNICEF. CHILD SOLDIERS. Available: http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/briefing/soldiers/soldiers.pdf. Last accessed 1st December 2010.

• UNICEF. FACTSHEET: CHILD SOLDIERS. Available: http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/childsoldiers.pdf. Last accessed 8th

• UNICEF. (29 April 2008). What is a child soldier?. Available: http://www.unicef.org/emerg/index_childsoldiers.html. Last accessed 4th December 2010.

• UN Works. Fatmata’s Story. Available: http://www.un.org/works/goingon/soldiers/fatmata_story.html. Last accessed 8th December 2010.

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[1] Spagnoli, F. (2008). Human Rights Quote (49): Child Soldiers. Available: http://filipspagnoli.wordpress.com/stats-on-human-rights/statistics-on-war-conflict/statistics-on-child-soldiers/. Last accessed 8th December 2010.

[2] UNICEF. (29 April 2008). What is a child soldier?. Available: ." http://www.unicef.org/emerg/index_childsoldiers.html. Last accessed 4th December 2010. [3] Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers. (2007). Questions and Answers. Available: http://www.child-soldiers.org/childsoldiers/questions-and-answers. Last accessed 1st December 2010. [4] UNICEF. CHILD SOLDIERS. Available: http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/briefing/soldiers/soldiers.pdf. Last accessed 1st December 2010. [5] Beber, B and Blattman, C. (2010). The Industrial Organization of Rebellion: The Logic of Forced Labor and Child Soldiering*. Available: http://chrisblattman.com/documents/research/2010.IOofRebellion.pdf. Last accessed 6th December 2010. [6] Beber, B and Blattman, C. (2010). The Industrial Organization of Rebellion: The Logic of Forced Labor and Child Soldiering*. Available: http://chrisblattman.com/documents/research/2010.IOofRebellion.pdf. Last accessed 6th December 2010. [7] UN Works. Fatmata’s Story. Available: http://www.un.org/works/goingon/soldiers/fatmata_story.html. Last accessed 8th December 2010. [8] Beah, I (2007). ‘A Long Way Gone’: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Harper Perennial. p5-218. [9] Report of the Sierra Leone Truth & Reconciliation Commission. (2004). Children and the Armed Conflict in Sierra Leone. Vol. 3B, p231-340.

[10] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1990). Convention on the Rights of the Child . Available: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm. Last accessed 8th December 2010. [11] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2000). Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Available: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc-conflict.htm. Last accessed 8th December 2010. [12] UNICEF. FACTSHEET: CHILD SOLDIERS. Available: http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/childsoldiers.pdf. Last accessed 8th

[13] Michael Odeh and Colin Sullivan. Children in Armed Conflict. Available: http://www.yapi.org/rpchildsoldierrehab.pdf. Last accessed 8th December 2010.

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Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone and Human Rights Violations

Introduction to Human Rights

Teacher: Daniel Aguirre

Ekta Nandwani, Student ID: S00404238
09/12/2010

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