critical Analysis of the use of Child Soldiers in Liberia 5. 1 Introduction Generally stated ,this paper seeks to establish the role of child soldiers in the escalation of armed conflict in Africa. The previous chapters have discussed the regional armed conflicts where child soldiers were used or are being used like the case of DRC Congo. This chapter will critically analyse the use of child soldiers in Liberia. There were approximately 120,000 child soldiers who were participating in armed conflicts in Africa. Out of these, approximately 24,000 were in the Liberian conflict.
Liberia is not a poor country. It has natural resources that could sustain its estimated population of 3. 2 million people. The question is how the available resources was being utilised and how did it contribute in fuelling the conflict. The availability of precious minerals and hard wood timber in Liberia contributed greatly in escalating and maintain the 14 years Liberian conflict. The age of the child soldier does not guarantee their immunity from being deployed the battlefield because while most are in their teens, some are as young as seven years old.
Being so tender in age, they may start out as cooks, messengers, porters or guards, but often end up on the frontlines of combat. In Liberia, many boys some as young as nine or ten man checkpoints. The authority that goes with the responsibility gives them the free rein to harass, loot, terrorize and sometimes, kill civilians. Manning checkpoints gives a child power and influence, even if he is twelve years old. There have been instances where fifteen or twenty boys man a checkpoint and the commander is only ten years old.
Girls also are used as soldiers, and fall victims of rape and other sexual abuse. The human rights impacts are terrible and far-reaching and have an impact not only on those children directly concerned but also on the families and communities, and continue long after the hostilities have ended . Besides being the continent that has the highest propensity for girls entering forces or groups via abduction or gang pressing, Africa is also the region with the highest number of children in armed opposition forces, numbering to approximately 120,000.
In addition to being participant in combat, girl soldiers are often required to perform sexual services. In some cases, girls are in fact primarily recruited or abducted as ‘wives’ or ‘concubines’, a common practice in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Among the common roles found in countries from every region of the world was the use of girl soldiers as porters, cooks or made to perform a variety of domestic labor, as well as spies and looters in villages taken over by armed forces or armed opposition groups. 5. 2Why children become child soldiers
The factors which give rise to the participation of children in conflict are complex. No single model can either explain all the factors, or outline a uniform procedure that will prevent child recruitment, and enable procedures for the demobilisation and social reintegration of children who have participated in conflict. Most child soldiers are from poor or disadvantaged sections of the society in conflict. Children, who live in the conflict zones by themselves are often recruited. Also, those children with disrupted families or no families at all are more likely to become child soldiers.
In Liberia, child soldiers we often recruited from refugee camps in neighbouring countries like Guinea, Ivory coast and Sierra Leone while others were recruited from Internally Displaced Camps(IDP), within Liberia. In the months following UNMIL’s deployment on 1 October 2003, assessment missions carried out by UNMIL and humanitarian agencies, including into areas of the country until recently inaccessible, revealed large numbers of injured people, mostly children, which was consistent with the widespread use of child soldiers.
The proliferation of small arms in West Africa contributed greatly not only to continuing conflict and repeated failure of successive peace agreements in the region, but has also encouraged and facilitated the recruitment and use of child soldiers, as well as other serious human rights abuses against the civilian population. The widespread availability of modern lightweight weapons enables even the youngest child soldier to use weapons efficiently.
Technological development of arms today has produces arms weighing less than seven pounds and cost cheaply and yet so advance that even an illiterate child of ten could strip, reassemble, load and fire it. This mere knowledge however, did not make them skilled soldiers. On the contrary, they suffer much higher casualty rates than their adult counterparts, in part because of their lack of maturity and experience that leads them to take unnecessary risks. Their frail bodies are more susceptible to complications if injured, and they are more likely to fall ill in the rough conditions of military camps.
Child soldiers are viewed as more expendable and therefore receive less training and must undertake the most dangerous tasks such as checking for mines or spying in enemy camps. Often children are recruited through abduction in massive sweeps of homes, schools, Refugee camp, Internally displaced camps and streets. In some situations, child survivors of village raids and massacres are forcibly inducted. Abduction is only the first step in a process that uses fear, brutality and psychological manipulation to achieve high levels of obedience in converting children into killers.
In many conflicts, child recruits are subjected to beatings, humiliation and acts of sadism. During the escalation of the conflict, especially in Monrovia in June and July 2003, there was a marked increase in forcible recruitment of children by all sides. A frequently used tactic in indoctrinating children to violence is exposing them progressively to violence, thus numbing them so that they might someday commit acts of sadism on fellow humans. Child recruits in Liberia, were forced to cut the throats of domestic animals and drink its blood.
Children are often terrorized into obedience, consistently made to fear for their lives and well-being. They quickly recognize that absolute obedience is the only means to ensure survival. Sometimes they are compelled to participate in the killing of other children or family members, because it is understood by these groups that there is “no way back home” for children after they have committed such crimes. Evidence indicates that the recruitment and use of children has become the means of choice of many armed groups for waging war.
Certainly, not all inductions of children are forced. Those old enough to understand the underlying cause of the conflict want to join adults in a revered cause. Others participate to prove themselves and please adults while yet there may be victims or have family members who were victims, join to seek revenge. There are several cases in Liberia were children decided to join rebel groups to avenge the murder of their kin. Media images may also play a part. In Liberia, opposition forces could broadcast Rambo-style movies as part of its combat training.
In such contexts, young boys learn machismo and come to associate military activity with respect and power-compelling attractions for children who otherwise feel powerless. DDRR The implementation of the Liberian peace agreement and consolidation of peace, security and the rule of law were contingent on successful completion of the DDRR program. All other initiatives aimed at post-conflict reconstruction and restoration of basic human rights, including those of child soldier, are predicated on effective DDRR.
The importance of completely disarming fighters and destroying weapons is very critical because the ex-combatants can use the weapons to harass civilians, loot properties or attack their opponents . Continued delays in disarmament and demobilization, and provision of the financial incentive to former combatants, can aggravate a precarious security situation. In March 2004 MODEL combatants in Tapeta, Nimba County, threatened harassment of international humanitarian agencies in the area in protest at the delays.
Similarly, former government forces fired their weapons at night near Maimu internally displaced people’s camp in Totota, Bong County, and threatened to loot the camp if disarmament and demobilization were further postponed. In early April 2004 LURD combatants, also angered by the delay in disarmament and demobilization, were reported to have harassed civilians and stolen money and property at unofficial checkpoints on the road between Totota and Gbarnga.
The previous disarmament and demobilization process which took place in Liberia in the late 1990s was seriously deficient in returning former child soldiers to their families and communities. While up to 20,000 child soldiers were estimated to be involved in the conflict which ended in 1997, little more than 4,000 were reported to have been fully disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated into their communities. As a result, with the resumption of hostilities, rapid re-mobilization of children was possible because many were to some degree still under the control of local commander.
The Cape Town Principles, as observed by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), define a child soldier as any person under 18 years who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms .
Application of this broad definition is important: possession of a weapon is not a prerequisite for a child soldier to benefit from the DDRR process. In Liberia, possession of a weapon or ammunition was the criteria for inclusion in the DDRR process. Since not all the child soldiers were armed or involved in the actual fighting, many former child soldiers were not involved in the DDRR process and thus did not benefit from the cash allowances paid to those with weapons to assist them reintegrate into their society.
Those who were left out in the DDRR programme simply crossed over to the neighbouring, especially in Ivory coast , joined other rebel group and took up arms. The conflict in West Africa was a vicious circle which saw child soldiers moving from one rebel group to another, for them, it was their lifestyle. The net effect of this was that conflicts in this part of west Africa have continued shifting from one country to the other.
Governments international organizations involved in the DDRR process should ensure speedy registration procedures at camps and settlements, as well as at demobilization centres. They should also prioritize the immediate psychological, social and physical rehabilitation of former child soldiers generally and to prevent re-recruitment. The involvement of children in conflict has a devastating effect on their physical and mental integrity. There are higher casualty rates among children because of their inexperience, fearlessness and lack of training.
In addition to the inevitable risks of death or serious injury in combat, children suffer disproportionately from the general rigours of military life, especially in the bush, and are particularly vulnerable to disease and malnutrition. The full extent of the impact of the severe psychological consequences of active participation in hostilities, with children witnessing and at times also committing atrocities, may only become apparent over a long period. It takes a matter of moments to abduct and forcibly recruit children; it takes years, owever, for former child soldiers to be fully rehabilitated and reintegrated into their families and communities and able to resume their lives. Child soldiers in Liberia were cynically used as they were perceived as cheap and expendable, and easier to condition into fearless killing and unquestioning obedience. Those resisting refusing to comply with their commanders’ orders risked being beaten or killed. Both the rebel groups and government forces abducted children, both girls and boys and some as young as seven years, and forced them to fight, carry ammunition, prepare food or carry out other tasks.
Girls were raped and forced to provide sexual services. While older girls were actively engaged in fighting, younger ones provided domestic services as cooks or cleaners or carried arms and ammunition. Many child soldiers were given drugs and alcohol to induce aggression and inhibit fear. With little or no military training, they were sent directly to the front line where many were killed or wounded. The conflict in Liberia lasted for 14 years due to availability of child soldiers and funds from the illicit trade of Gold and Diamonds run and sustain the conflict.
The conflict in Liberia has forced vast numbers of civilians to flee their homes. During 2003 it was estimated that more than 500,000 were internally displaced and another 300,000 living as refugees in neighbouring countries. Child soldiers were recruited from neighbouring countries of Ivory coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone. LURD forces abducted and recruited children from internally displaced people’s camps in Liberia, especially those in Montserrado County as they advanced towards Monrovia during 2003. They were also reported to have abducted children from refugee camps in Guinea.
MODEL recruited children from refugee camps in Cote d’Ivoire and further swelled their ranks with children as they advanced towards Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, over which they took control on 26 July 2003. .Rape and other grave sexual violence against children. The rape and sexual violation of children and women is increasingly a characteristic of conflict. Such violence is often perpetrated against boys and girls in a rule of law vacuum that is a consequence of conflict and is exacerbated by the ensuing culture of impunity.
In some instances sexual violence has been used as a premeditated tactic of war designed to humiliate or exterminate a population or to force displacement. Reports of high incidence rates of rape and sexual violence against children were received in Liberia. In many cases, the data on incidents, magnitude and scope of sexual violence is unreliable or non-existent due to deep cultural taboos surrounding such crimes, fear of reprisal of victims and their families and a range of other factors.
Precise information, critical for combating impunity and for programmatic response, is difficult to obtain or verify. Sexual violence appears to be especially prevalent in and around refugee camps and settlements for internally displaced populations. For children especially, the physical and mental consequences are devastating. Such violations may also take the form of sexual slavery, forced prostitution and marriage or sexual mutilation.
The long-term health consequences for the victims include sexually transmitted infection such as HIV/AIDS, fistula, early pregnancy and debilitating psychological trauma. Although cases of sexual violence against boys are sometimes reported, insufficient attention is paid to this particular dimension, and such violations remain largely undocumented. Some research indicates that boys are especially vulnerable to sexual violence during military operations in civilian areas or during military conscription or abduction into paramilitary forces.
They are also especially vulnerable in refugee and internally displaced settings and in detention. Sexual violence in times of conflict, in particular against boys and girls, constitutes the breaking of deep social taboos in every culture and as such causes maximum devastation to the social fabric of communities. Therefore, the interventions required in the aftermath of widespread and systematic sexual violence necessitates more comprehensive approaches that begin with the victims but extend to the communities in which they must once again find their place and comfort.
The stigmatization of victims of sexual violence, which often leads to their being ostracized or marginalized, requires comprehensive community-level interventions for affected girls and boys. Emphasis must be placed on fighting impunity for rape and other sexual violence through rigorous and systematic investigation and prosecution of such crimes at the national level and an increased focus on this problem by international justice mechanisms. At the national level, comprehensive initiatives to address the issue of sexual violence are required, and national ownership of such programmes is critical.
Donors, the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations should accord priority to providing technical and financial support to national authorities for the preparation and implementation of national strategies to address sexual violence. A regional approach to ending the use of child soldiers The conflict in Liberia was not simply an “internal” armed conflict; it had acquired a regional dimension involving, in particular, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Arms and fighters crossed back and forth across the borders between the four countries.
Peace in Liberia was and still is essential for maintaining peace in West Africa; conversely, any increase in hostilities across Liberia’s borders could undermine efforts to maintain peace in Liberia. In order to restore peace and security to West Africa, there was to be a coordinated approach across the region, with harmonization of UN efforts, including those of UN peace-keeping operations: UNMIL, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (MINUCI).
Structured dialogue on cross boarder recruitment and use of children has already paved the way for dialogue on broader child protection issues and enabled child protection actors in the field to pursue other priorities such as provision of education and healthcare to ex-child soldiers. Convention on the Rights of the Child – fulfilling commitments Liberia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993. During the subsequent decade, however, Liberian children have been denied their most fundamental rights.
On 17 May 2004 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child begins its thirty-sixth session during which it will consider Liberia’s initial report on the measures taken to implement its obligations under the Convention. The Committee’s consideration of Liberia’s report offers an important opportunity to highlight the plight of Liberia’s children and to consider ways of strengthening implementation of the rights enshrined in the Convention.
Review of the report will lead to the adoption of the Committee’s concluding observations which usually identify positive aspects, factors impeding implementation, principal areas of concern and recommendations. The concluding observations provide an opportunity to urge the NTGL to undertake concrete measures to improve the situation of children in Liberia and, at the same time, to encourage the international community to support the NGTL’s efforts to meet its commitments.
The report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict of 10 November 2003 specifically recommends that the Committee use the occasion of country reports and reviews to promote monitoring and accountability. (18) The NTGL’s responsibility to end the use of child soldiers Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) was legally obliged not to recruit and use children under the age of 18 years as combatants.
An important element of post-conflict reconstruction in Liberia was the formation of a new, professional, well-trained army. The peace agreement stated explicitly that all irregular forces would be disbanded and that the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) would be reformed with a new command structure. Assistance was requested from the international community, including the UN, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Contact Group on Liberia.
It specifically requests the US to take a lead in restructuring the armed forces. A Military Advisory Commission was established in early 2004, with the new, restructured armed forces deployed by the end of December 2005. This offered an important opportunity for concrete measures by the NTGL to ensure that no child under the age of 18 was recruited by the armed forces. Liberia is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child but it is yet to ratify it.
Liberia should ratify without delay the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict which raises the age for participation in hostilities to 18 years, and enact legislation making 18 years the minimum age for military recruitment. CONCLUSION As is known, basic survival needs take precedence over psychological during times of war but there is an increasing concern today that the experiences of war will have damaging effects on not only the psychological but also the social skills, attitudes towards the society they live in, their elationship with others as well as their perspective on life itself will be greatly impaired. It is sad that children have to watch their role models that include parents, teachers or elders, torture and kill each other while some trade their children for food and security. This act of breaching the expected moral standards of behaviour by authoritative figures are translated by children as betrayal, which in turn are manifested in themselves, as they grow up. These manifestations can take many forms.
While studies have shown that school absenteeism and juvenile crimes or attitudes favoring gambling, pre-marital sex and smoking could indicate such altered moral learning in children, acts of physical aggression, imitation of military acts and unwillingness to co-operate with peers are also indicators of developmental damage. Even when the war is over, its effects on children linger on long after the stressful event. They may experience numbing of responsiveness to or reduced involvement with the external world.
This may be indicated by a marked diminished interest in activities and surroundings, feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, loss of energy or withdrawal. Such negative developments in the child would influence the child’s occupational choice and his relationship with others later in life. 38 Poverty appears to be the motivating factor in most of the countries where child soldiers prevail. It is therefore important for relevant sections of the international community to also look at the flaws in the international economy.
The economy disparity between the developed and the developing world must be addressed because it is under these dire economic conditions in the developing world that innocent children are recruited as soldiers. Improvement of standards of living is vital to overcome the menace of recruiting children as combatants Maybe there is still hope for those unfortunate children who are victims of adults’ irresponsibility. A mechanism for international accountability was drafted on 17 July 1998 and open for signatures a year later. However, as in other treaties of the United Nations, it can only come