The Porter

Bangui, Central African Republic


 This is a composite case study. Although this story is not of a real child, it reflects the lived experiences of child soldiers in this context.


Meet Mary. Originally from the north-eastern region of the Central African Republic (CAR), she now lives in an internally displaced persons camp in the capital, Bangui, far from her home.


Mary grew up in a modest household with her parents, her older brother and younger sister. Her father struggled to find work and eventually was left with no other option other than to join an armed group to ensure his family’s safety; Mary’s older brother followed close behind.


Violence spread through the country forcing many schools to close and leaving many children without the prospect of an education. Violence increased in the region and forced Mary, along with her mother and sister, to flee their home. At night an armed group found where Mary and her family were hiding. That was the last time Mary saw her mother and sister.


With no family, no school and no way to ensure her safety, Mary made the difficult decision to join an armed group, just as her father and older brother had before her. Mary was only 12 years old when she joined, yet the group was quick to put her to work. The armed group manipulated Mary with fear and violence, forcing her to do whatever she was told.


Mary did not to carry a gun or take direct part in the fighting, as not every child soldier carries a gun. Mary was a porter; she was tasked with carrying boxes of ammunition, grenades, food, and water. Sometimes she was near the fighting, delivering ammunition to soldiers on the front lines; other times she hauled supplies between camps. Her commanders would inflict swift and violent punishment if he didn’t perform.


The work itself is backbreaking and dangerous. She has to lift heavy boxes of supplies and carry them on her head, often down tracks through the bush where it is all too easy to trip and fall. Mary didn’t have shoes so she cut his feet on sharp rocks and roots and her feet would bleed with blisters after long days of marching. The children were not allowed to stop and tend to their wounds because they would be punished if they broke formation.


The extra work from the recent upsurge in conflict left her exhausted and suffering from serious health issues. In her years with the armed group, she has seen many of her friends die, making it difficult to sleep due to the nightmares.



Who is a Child Soldier?

The Paris Principles on Children and Armed Conflict

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child soldier using the 2007 Paris Principal and Guidelines on Children Affected by Armed Conflict. Using the definition within the Paris Principles of a child used and associated with armed groups, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child soldier as:


“Any person below 18 years of age who is or has been recruited or used by an armed group in any capacity including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking part or has taken a direct part in direct hostilities”

Composite Material

and Recommended Readings

Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict Central African Republic Country Page: Webpage Link

2014 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict: Report Link

2013 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict: Report Link

Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Central African Republic (2011) : Report Link

Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Central African Republic (2009): Report Link

Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict: Vulnerable Students, Unsafe Schools: Attacks and Military Use of Schools in the Central African Republic: Report Link

Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict: An Uncertain Future? Children and Armed Conflict in the Central African Republic – Watchlist/IDMC: Report Link

International Medical Corp: Life of a Child Soldier in CAR: Webpage Link

Save the Children: Caught in a Combat Zone: Report Link

Not Every Child Carries a Gun

The Porter

Children are used as porters in every conflict that children are used as child soldiers. The job of porting is a critical role in any armed group and ensures that supplies are moved mobilized in preparation for a fight.

By using children as porters, armed groups are able to free adults from this laborious task and keep them rested and ready to fight when needed. Due to their small stature and lack of fear children may exhibit in the face of grave danger, in the heat of battle, children will be used to replenish troops with ammunition and other supplies.

However, there are many disadvantages to using children as porters: children cannot carry as heavy loads compared to adults; children are more like tire quickly and/or become injured. As such, the physical demands of the role of a porter often leaves children with permanent and debilitating injuries, both physically and mentally.