Our writings section features stories addressing the issue of ChildSoldiers written by youth in Sierra Leone
What Problems Do Child Soldiers Face in Sierra Leoene
by Simeon Sahr Komba, age 18, West African Methodist Collegiate Secondary School. Freetown, Sierra Leone
There has been many child soldiers during the ten years civil conflicts in Sierra Leone. The children, both boys and girls are mostly aged between seven and seventeen years. They have served in all factions, Revolutionary United Front ( RUF), Civil Defence Forces (CDF) , Sierra Leone Army (SLA), as well as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, ( AFRC).
These children, most of whom were abducted, faced a lot of trouble. They are used as carriers of looted items for older fighters, human shields in case of attacks, and even as field combatants. The army abducted or recruited small boys who were refered to as the SLA -2, to distinguish them from trained and older army personalities. The RUF called them the 'small boys unit'. These child soldiers have a lot of problems. They start facing the problems from abduction or recruitment, even unto their discharge or disarmament as the peace process is ongoing.
The child soldier, when abducted are sometimes branded or marked to identify them. This marking is done by cutting the initial of letters that identify the faction on their chests or backs with either bayonettes or sharp razor blades. When these marks become scars the child soldier is now afraid to be captured or to return to his or her home. The child soldier now, will do anything for the commander or commands just to stay alive.
During battle times, the child soldier is sent on spying missions known as ' recce'. They are given small items like cola nuts, cigarettes or other things to do and sell in enemy territory. The child soldier must observe all military secrets and report to his commander. If he fails, he is executed or killed.
The child soldier is most times, the one who is asked to burn houses and vehicles. The older combatants will just give them instructions to carry out. Whenever a child soldier has done something like this, he or she then becomes afraid to go back to normal society. Infact some of them were abducted so young that they cannot remember who their parents are or where they come from. They do not have anywhere to go or return to. They consider the commander as their everything. They take anything the commander says, even down to killing people.
When the child soldiers loot, the commanders take everything away from them and so the child soldiers do not benefit anything materially.
Child soldiers are introduced to drugs whiles in jungle. Some smoke marijuana, take cocaine and drink alcohol. Cigarrette smoking is common among them. In a situation like this, the child soldiers have no schooling, they have lost many years of their lives for nothing.
Now that peace is slowly returning to the country, combatants of all factions are disarming. Child soldiers have a problem even in the disarmament process. Those who cannot protect their weapons because of age are forced to give up the weapons to their commanders. The riffles are then presented by these commanders who then receive the qualified attention to enter the demobilization programme. The child soldier is either abandoned by the commander or just handed over to child related Non Governmental Organisations. The reason for this is that the commander will get an allowance while the child looses.
Even where the child presents a weapon, he or she is handed over to child protection NGO. The child soldiers demobilized in this way often demonstrates at homes set up for them because of lack of care and attention. The problem continues even after disarmament.
The most crucial problem the child soldier faces is that of reuniting with families. Most families are ashamed of their child ex-combatants and do not want to accept them again. Some families want to accept them but the children are afraid to return because of all the things they did during the war. Although it was not their fault, they feel guilty now that the drugs and similar adictions have left them.
The child combatants or soldiers in Sierra Leone is a victim of the action of the older people. A child cannot plan and carry out war, but it is children who have suffered the most either as victims or as the people who cut hands and legs off, burn out houses and kill people. They have a serious problem and need assistance. Many have disarmed, reunited with their families or are leaving in NGO homes and shelters and many are still with their commanders.