“The Social and Cultural Context of Child Soldiering in Sierra Leone”



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no get sense” but, as Ferme (2001: Chapter 6) and Gottlieb (1998) argue, nevertheless has a powerful social meaning due to the perceived relationship of infants with the world of the spirits. A child or pikinget sense,” can understand, and talk.

18 Thanks to Mohamed Fofanah for this point.

19 For the West it is in large part the child labor aspects of child soldiering that are so reprehensible. See the 1999 International Labour Organization (ILO) convention on minimum age, which says “Members should provide that the worst forms of child labour are criminal offences … including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.”

20 Goody (1982: 210) notes that the placing of children outside the natal family of orientation is common in rural areas of Sierra Leone. It has been reported for the Mende (Little 1951), the Limba (Finnegan 1965), the Temne (Gamble 1963), the Fula (Butcher 1964), and the Sherbro (Hoffer 1974).

21 The proper names of individuals and villages have been changed throughout to protect the identity of my informants.

22 The surprising fact from my interview with the son is that the rebel that wanted him didn’t just take him on as a soldier, but said he wanted him as his own, wanted to take him home and put him in school. They just trained him to use a gun so he’d be able to defend himself.

23 At the 2003 African Studies Association meetings in Boston, Simon Ottenberg, a long time scholar of West Africa, postulated that there are similarities between child soldiers and the pre-initiated youth masquerade groups he has been studying. Maybe, he ventured, they are masquerading as soldiers?

24 Because of the importance of these secret associations, especially the men’s Poro, the tribes of the region are sometimes know as ‘the Poro tribes’ or ‘Poro cluster’, including ‘the Lokko, Temne, Kono, Mende, Bullom, Krim, and Sherbro of Sierra Leone and, in Liberia, the Gola, Vai, De, Kpelle, Kissi, Gbande, Belle, Loma, Mano and Gio’ (d'Azevedo 1959: 68)

25 The situation is more complicated for the Krio. There are Krio only societies that serve similar roles to indigenous secret societies. Also, some Krio have chosen to join secret societies for political or other reasons. Also, the rise of evangelical Christianity has meant that some people refuse to join their children to secret societies for religious reasons.

26 Jackson explains that for the Kuranko (the ethnic group in Sierra Leone he knows best), and for several other West African groups, the contrast between bush and town signifies the extremes between exuberant disorder and social order, or between uncontrolled power and restraint. Because the bush is a source of vital and regenerative energy, the village must open itself up perennially to it. Farmers clear-cut the forest in order to grow rice that is the staff of life. Hunters venture into the bush at night, braving real and imagined dangers in their search for meat. (Jackson 2004: 156)

27 Of course, it is interesting to think about how the hunting societies had to change to suit the needs of wartime, but that is another topic.

28 At the 2004 African Studies Association meetings in Boston, Simon Ottenberg postulated that there are also connections between children’s masquerading societies and the practice of child soldiering.

29 Thanks to M.T. Bangura for translating interviews that were taped in a mixture of Krio and Temne.

30 For boys, this means the removal of the foreskin. For girls, it means the removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with the whole area then sown up. This is also known in some circles as Female Genital Mutilation.

31 Some see recent educational reforms as worsening the crisis of youth. At a “stakeholders conference on education” I heard complaints that the new 6-3-3-4 (six years of primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school, and four years of tertiary school) system has caused a lot of the problem. A teacher friend of mine told me that 60-70 percent of students fail the exam that would allow them to advance to senior secondary school, and then they become useless in society. “That’s when they start hanging out in ghettoes, and all they learn there is how to condemn the system. It just confuses them,” he told me. In other words, now there is a specific point when a majority of half-educated youths are excluded from the education system. Krech (2003: 143) makes the same point. In his interviews with Ministry of Education Officials, he heard “we at the Ministry of Education in some ways blame ourselves for the war.”

32 For some excellent recent ethnographies of political struggles in Africa across the elder-youth divide see Gable (2000) and Ngwane (2001).

33 We can see both models operating in present day Africa. The “young lions” of the victorious anti-apartheid movement in South Africa are understood much differently than the defeated young fighters of Sierra Leone.

34 Sir Herbert Cox, Report of Commission of Inquiry into the Disturbances in the Provinces, November 1955—March 1956 (Freetown, 1956), p. 173

35 The All Peoples Congress (APC) was the ruling party in a one party state for thirty years from 1971 to 2001. Many see the war as a reaction to those years of corrupt rule.

36 Girls have a different set of problems.

Susan Shepler • Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone • Page
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