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

Why do fighting factions abstain from using child soldiers in Sierra Leone?

Download 129.73 Kb.
Size129.73 Kb.
1   2   3   4

Why do fighting factions abstain from using child soldiers in Sierra Leone?

How does an ethnographer find out why groups abstain from using child soldiers? How does one do participant observation regarding a phenomenon that did not happen? First of all, it was fairly rare for commanders not to use children in the fighting. At the beginning of the conflict, there was little or no conception of the issue of “child soldiers.” The closest I can come to investigating the phenomenon of abstention at this point is to talk about commanders who demobilized children in their ranks, either during or after the fighting. In this section, therefore, I am mainly talking about efforts to get fighting forces to stop using child soldiers rather than explaining why they didn’t use them in the first place.

I believe that the main technique stopping factions from using child soldiers is international pressure, either from child soldier issue groups or from International NGOs or UNICEF. This technique obviously works better with government forces or others who think they might have something to gain from the international community. The most recent report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reports that there are no more children involved in the government army (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers 2003). Also, the RUF gave up child soldiers at a greater rate when they were participating in the coalition government (Brooks Unpublished Report). The CDF gave up child soldiers at a greater rate, or at least made public proclamations to that effect, when they started trying to be a national political force instead of a local militia.

On the ground, there was frequent “sensitization” to the rights of the child. In the last years of the war, NGO workers reached out to communities, schools, elders, and force commanders with a message of respect for the standards of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), both to convince the forces to give up their child soldiers and to convince communities to accept there erstwhile sons and daughters back into the fold.

Most successful was the promise of material benefits for registered ex-combatants. In Masakane, I witnessed a meeting between a child protection worker, Abu, and Obia, the CDF commander I introduced above. Abu said he had some to acquaint Obia with the child protection NGO’s work in the region, and to ask him to turn over the children so they could get benefits. (Obia countered that another NGO had already come around asking children to register and promising benefits and nothing had materialized, so he was not sure it was worth going through the whole thing again.) Obia agreed that it was important to think about the children, but countered that that was exactly what they were doing, providing them with training. Plus, it’s very important that the children learn the work of fighting in case the big ones all die. They need someone to take their place. Abu agreed that training is important, but said you could train them at the base without actually involving them in conflict (he also completely defended their right to defend themselves.) Obia agreed to cooperate. Then they posed for pictures, Obia surrounded by his child bodyguards in full society dress worn especially for the occasion.

Even if the child rights knowledge is there, it often cannot counteract perceived necessity. An excerpt from an interview with Obia shows this:
SS: So, [The Child Protection NGO] says it’s not a good thing for children to fight, to carry a gun, even for a child to know what a gun is. How do you feel about that?
O: That’s fine. Because, what made us do it, we didn’t know any better (di sabi, nain wi no bin get), you understand. Because, as I told you, we thought that the war wouldn’t end. So, that’s how the war was, we didn’t know that … even soldiers were fighting against us. They all had gone to the bush. So that now, where could we look for defense? So that is why we involved most of the children, to let our number be large, because the RUF’s numbers were large. Because the SLA who we had hoped would defend us, they too had gone to the bush. So that’s why most of [the children], we joined them [into the CDF]. So, anyone who is seven years and up, we joined them. So we could have large numbers.


In this paper, I have sought to provide a deeper answer than one usually finds to the question, “why do fighting factions use child soldiers?” I have touched on social, cultural, and historical factors that help explain the use of child soldiers in Sierra Leone. This doesn’t change the fact that the war was a horrible experience for almost everyone involved, and Sierra Leoneans will be recovering from the trauma of war for decades to come.

We were asked to say something about the possibilities for comparative work. I believe that comparative work, when done poorly, can be dangerous. We must strive to understand each situation without over-generalizing, or worse, judging with respect to a Western model. It is by truly understanding local cultural realities that those of us who want to work for a more peaceful world can begin to work together to stop the practices that we all find horrifying.

To understand childhood in Sierra Leone, one could start with UNICEF data. It paints a picture of a childhood of deprivation, always in distinction to the “ideal” Western childhood. Or we could romanticize it in a kind of Rousseau child-as-noble-savage move. The real challenge is to understand Sierra Leoneans’ as a different model of childhood, which works in its own cultural milieu, without condemning or valorizing. The theoretical danger is an extreme cultural relativism that approves any “traditional” practice for the sake of its traditional-ness. This can be just as insidious as a fanatical devotion to a universal definition of childhood that always finds African childhoods wanting.

Works Cited

Abdullah, I., Y. Bangura, C. Blake, L. Gberie, L. Johnson, K. Kallon, S. Kemokai, P.K. Muana, I. Rashid, and A. Zack-Williams. 1997. Lumpen Youth Culture and Political Violence: Sierra Leoneans Debate the RUF and the Civil War. Africa Development 22 (3/4):171-215.

Archibald, Steven, and Paul Richards. 2002. Converts to Human Rights? Popular Debate About War and Justice in Rural Central Sierra Leone. Africa 72 (3):339-367.

Bah, Khadija Alia. 1997. Rural Women and Girls in the War in Sierra Leone. London: Conciliation Resources.

Bangura, Yusuf. 1997. Understanding the Political and Cultural Dynamics of the Sierra Leone War: A Critique of Paul Richards' Fighting for the Rain Forest. Africa Development 22 (3/4):117-148.

Bennett, Elizabeth, Virginia Gamba, and Deirdre van der Merwe, eds. 2000. ACT Against Child Soldiers in Africa: A Reader. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.

Bledsoe, Caroline. 1990. 'No Success without Struggle': Social Mobility and Hardship for Foster Children in Sierra Leone. Man 25:70-88.

———. 1990. School fees and the Marriage Process for Mende girls in Sierra Leone. In Beyond the Second Sex: New Directions in the Anthropology of Gender, edited by P. R. Sanday and R. G. Goodenough. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

———. 1990. The Social Management of Fertility: Child Fosterage among Mende. In Births and Power: The Politics of Reproduction, edited by W. P. Handwerker.

———. 1992. The Cultural Transformation of Western Education in Sierra Leone. Africa 62 (2).

———. 1993. Politics of polygyny in Mende Education and child fosterage transactions. In Sex and gender hierarchies, edited by B. D. Miller. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boyden, Jo. 1997. Childhood and the Policy Makers: A Comparative Perspective on the Globalization of Childhood. In Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood, edited by A. James and A. Prout. London: Falmer Press.

———. 2001. Conducting Research with War-Affected and Displaced Children: Ethics and Methods. Paper read at Filling Knowledge Gaps: A Research Agenda on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, 2-4 July 2001, at Florence.

Brooks, Andy. Unpublished Report. Lessons Learned in prevention, demobilization, and reintegration of children associated with the fighting forces: A Sierra Leone case study: UNICEF.

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. 2002. Child Soldiers 1379 Report. London: Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

———. 2003. Child Soldier Use 2003: A Briefing for the 4th UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict. London: Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

Cohn, Ilene, and Guy Goodwin-Gill. 1994. Child Soldiers: The Role of Children in Armed Conflict. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

d'Azevedo, W. L. 1959. The setting of Gola Society and Culture: Some Theoretical Implications of Variations in Time and Space. Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 21:43-125.

David-Toweh, Kelly. 1998. The Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Liberia: 1994-1997: The Process and Lessons Learned: UNICEF-Liberia and the U.S. National Committee for UNICEF.

de Berry, Jo. 2001. Child Soldiers and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 575 (Child Rights):92-105.

de la Soudiere, Marie. 2002. Assessment of the Psychosocial Adjustment of Former Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone: Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. New York: International Rescue Committee.

DeBurca, Roisin. 2000. Case Study on Children from the Fighting Forces in Sierra Leone. Document Prepared for the International Conference on War-Affected Children. Winnipeg - September 2000. Freetown: UNICEF.

Denzer, La Ray. 1971. Sierra Leone - Bai Bureh. In West African Resistance: The military response to colonial occupation, edited by M. Crowder. London: Hutchinson & Co.

Dorjahn, V.R. 1960. The Changing Political System of the Temne. Africa 30 (2):110-39.

Ehrenreich, Rosa. 1998. The stories we must tell: Ugandan children and the atrocities of the Lord's resistance Army. Africa Today 45 (1):79-102.

Fanthorpe, Richard. 2001. Neither Citizen nor Subject? 'Lumpen' Agency and the Legacy of Native Administration in Sierra Leone. African Affairs 100:363-386.

Ferme, Mariane. 2001. The Underneath of Things: Violence, History, and the Everyday in Sierra Leone. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gable, Eric. 2000. The culture development club: Youth, neotradition, and the construction of society in Guinea-Bissau. Anthropological Quarterly 73 (4):195-203.

Gibbs, Sara. 1994. Post-War Social Reconstruction in Mozambique: Re-framing Children's Experience of Trauma and Healing. Disasters 18 (3):268-276.

Goody, Esther N. 1982. Parenthood and Social Reproduction: Fostering and Occupational Roles in West Africa. Edited by J. Goody. Vol. 35, Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gottlieb, Alma. 1998. Do Infants Have Religion? The Spiritual Lives of Beng Babies. American Anthropologist 100 (1):122-135.

Government of Sierra Leone. 2004. Sierra Leone National Youth Policy. Government of Sierra Leone, 2003 [cited 4/21/04 2004]. Available from http://www.statehouse-sl.org/policies/youth.html.

Honwana, Alcinda. 1999. Negotiating Post-war Identities: Child Soldiers in Mozambique and Angola. CODESRIA Bulletin (1-2):4-13.

Howard, Allen M., and David E. Skinner. 1984. Network Building and Political Power in Northwestern Sierra Leone, 1800-65. Africa 54 (2):2-28.

Jackson, Michael. 2004. In Sierra Leone. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

James, Alison, and Alan Prout, eds. 1997. Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood. London, Washington D.C.: Falmer Press.

Kaplan, Robert. 1994. The Coming Anarchy: How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet. Atlantic Monthly (February 1994):44-76.

Keairns, Yvonne. 2002. The Voices of Girl Child Soldiers. New York: The Quaker UN Office.

Kostelny, Kathleen, and Michael Wessells. 2000. Child Soldiering: Developmental Needs and Holistic Interventions. Paper read at Children and Armed Conflict: Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers in the Post-Conflict Community, November 2000, at Tokyo, Japan.

Krech, Robert. 2003. The Reintegration of Former Child Combatants: A Case Study of NGO Programming in Sierra Leone. M.A., Education, University of Toronto, Toronto.

Lave, Jean, and Ettiene Wenger. 1991. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Le Billon, P. 2003. Blood Diamonds: Linking Spaces of Exploitation and Regulation. Paper read at Environmental Politics Workshop, 17 October 2003, at Berkeley.

Legrand, Jean-Claude. 1997. Cape Town Principles and Best Practices on the Prevention of Recruitment of Children in the Armed Forces and Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa. New York: UNICEF.

———. 1999. Lessons Learned from UNICEF Field Programmes for the Prevention of Recruitment, Demobilization and Reintegration of Child Soldiers.

Little, Kenneth. 1967. The Mende of Sierra Leone: a West African people in transition, Revised edition. London: Routledge & K. Paul.

Malkki, Liisa, and Emily Martin. 2003. Children and the gendered politics of globalization: In remembrance of Sharon Stephens. American Ethnologist 30 (2):216-224.

Mazurana, Dyan, and Susan McKay. 2001. Child Soldiers: What about the girls? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 57 (5):30-35.

McKay, Susan. 1998. The Effects of Armed Conflict on Girls and Women. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 4 (4):381-392.

McKay, Susan, and Dyan Mazurana. 2004. Where are the Girls? Girls in Fighting Forces in Northern Uganda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique: Their Lives During and After War. Montreal: Rights and Democracy.

Muana, Patrick. 1997. The Kamajoi Militia: Violence, Internal Displacement and the Politics of Counter Insurgency. Africa Development 22 (3/4):77-100.

Newman, Jesse. 2004. Protection through Participation: background paper to the conference "Voices out of Conflict: Young People Affected by Forced Migration and Political Crisis". Paper read at Voices out of Conflict: Young People Affected by Forced Migration and Political Crisis, 26-28 March 2004, at Cumberland Lodge, UK.

Ngwane, Zolani. 2001. 'Real Men Reawaken their Fathers' Homesteads, the Educated Leave them in Ruins': The Politics of Domestic Reproduction in Post-Apartheid Rural South Africa. Journal of Religion in Africa 31 (4):402-426.

Nordstrom, Carolyn. 2004. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by R. Borofsky. Vol. 10, California Series in Public Anthropology. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Nunley, John W. 1987. Moving with the Face of the Devil: Art and Politics in Urban West Africa. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Pederson, Jon. 2001. What should we know about children in armed conflict and how should we go about knowing it? Paper read at Filling Knowledge Gaps: A Research Agenda on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, 2-4 July 2001, at Florence.

Peters, Krijn. 2000. Policy Making on Children in Conflict: Lessons from Sierra Leone and Liberia. Cultural Survival Quarterly 24 (2):56.

Peters, Krijn, Paul Richards, and Koen Vlassenroot. 2003. What Happens to Youth During and After Wars? A Preliminary Review of Literature on Africa and an Assessment of the Debate. Amsterdam: The Netherlands Development Assistance Research Council (RAWOO).

Reno, William. 1997. War, Markets, and the Reconfiguration of West Africa's Weak States. Comparative Politics 29 (4):493-510.

———. 1998. Warlord Politics and African States. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Richards, Paul. 1995. Rebellion in Liberia and Sierra Leone: a crisis of youth? In Conflict in Africa, edited by O. Furley. London: Tauris.

———. 1996. Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth, and Resources in Sierra Leone. Edited by A. d. Waal, African Issues. Oxford: James Currey.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, and Philippe Bourgois. 2004. Introduction: Making Sense of Violence. In Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology, edited by N. Scheper-Hughes and P. Bourgois. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Schildkrout, Enid. 1973. The Fostering of Children in Urban Ghana: Problems of Ethnographic Analysis. Urban Anthropology 2 (1):48-73.

Shepler, Susan. 1998. Education as a Site of Political Struggle in Sierra Leone. Anthropologicas 2:1-16.

———. 2002. Les Filles-Soldats: Trajectoires d'apres-guerre en Sierra Leone. Politique Africaine 88:49-62.

———. 2003. Educated in War: The Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone. In Conflict Resolution and Peace Education in Africa, edited by E. Uwazie. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

———. 2004. Globalizing Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone. In Youthscapes: The Popular, The National, The Global, edited by S. Maira and E. Soep. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Siddle, D. J. 1968. War-Towns in Sierra Leone: A Study in Social Change. Africa 38 (1):47-56.

Smillie, Ian, Lansana Gberie, and Ralph Hazleton. 2000. The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds & Human Security: Partnership Africa Canada.

Stephens, Sharon, ed. 1995. Children and the Politics of Culture. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Tangri, Roger. 1976. Conflict and Violence in Contemporary Sierra Leone Chiefdoms. The Journal of Modern African Studies 14 (2):311-321.

Thompson, Carol B. 1999. Beyond civil society: Child soldiers as citizens in Mozambique. Review of African Political Economy 26 (80):191-206.

UNDP. 2004. Human Development Report 2004: Cultural Liberty in Today's Diverse World. New York: UNDP.

UNICEF. 2002. UNICEF humanitarian appeal for children and women Jan - Dec 2002. New York: UNICEF.

Urdal, Henrik. 2004. The Devil in the Demographics: The Effect of Youth Bulges on Domestic Armed Conflict, 1950-2000. Vol. Paper No. 14, Social Development Papers, Conflict Prevention & Reconstruction: The World Bank.

Utas, Mats. 2003. Sweet Battlefields: Youth and the Liberian Civil War. Ph.D., Cultural Anthropology, Uppsala University, Uppsala.

Wessells, Michael, and Carlinda Monteiro. 2000. Healing Wounds of War in Angola: A community-based approach. In Addressing Childhood Adversity, edited by D. Donald, A. Dawes and J. Louw. Cape Town: David Philip Publishers.

West, Harry G. 2000. Girls with Guns: Narrating the Experience of War of Frelimo's 'Female Detachment'. Anthropological Quarterly 73 (4):180-194.

Zack-Williams, Alfred. 1999. Sierra Leone: the political economy of civil war, 1991-98. Third World Quarterly 20 (1):143-162.

1 Following UNICEF’s “Capetown Principles” terminology: “Child soldier” … means any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers, and those accompanying such groups, other than purely as family members. It includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms (UNICEF 1997: 1).

2 They also report: “There are many “qualitative” analyses of child soldiers and children affected by armed conflict. Despite recounting deeply chilling testimonies from children of their experiences, such analyses often, however, consist of commentary on “apt illustrations.” Although these testimonies are useful, they are seldom put into a framework of analysis of the social organization or systems of meaning that they are expressions of. Thus methodologically sound anthropological analyses are very rare (but see Honwana 2001)” (Pederson 2001: 14).

3 I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone for two years before the war (1987-1989), and was therefore familiar with the context and fluent in Krio, the national lingua franca. I returned to Sierra Leone in October 1999 and was evacuated in May 2000. I returned again in September 2000 until October 2001. A brief evaluation project took me back to Sierra Leone in January 2002, in time to see the official declaration of peace by the President. Fieldwork was generously supported by a grant from the Center for African Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Dissertation write-up was funded by the American Association of University Women, the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

4 In addition to these general treatises, in Africa there has been country specific work on child soldiers in Mozambique (Gibbs 1994; Thompson 1999; Honwana 1999; West 2000), Angola (Wessells and Monteiro 2000), Uganda (Ehrenreich 1998), Liberia (David-Toweh 1998; Peters 2000; Utas 2003), and Sierra Leone (de la Soudiere 2002; Shepler 2003; Krech 2003; Shepler 2004). There is also recent interest in the special problems of girl child soldiers (McKay 1998; Mazurana and McKay 2001; Keairns 2002; McKay and Mazurana 2004).

5 They usually all also note that the phenomenon is not new, and that child soldiers existed in the United States and Europe for centuries before the rise of modern childhoods.

6 Urdal finds no evidence for the claim made by Samuel P. Huntington that youth bulges above a certain ‘critical level’ make countries especially prone to conflict. He does provide evidence, however, that the combination of youth bulges and poor economic performance can be explosive.

7 Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers website, http://www.child-soldiers.org, accessed August 1, 2004.

8 Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers website, http://www.child-soldiers.org, accessed August 1, 2004.

9 Human Rights Watch website on the issue of child soldiers, http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/index.htm, accessed August 1, 2004.

10 Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers website, http://www.child-soldiers.org, accessed August 1, 2004.

11 Human Rights Watch website on the issue of child soldiers, http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/index.htm, accessed August 1, 2004.

12 Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers website, http://www.child-soldiers.org, accessed August 1, 2004.

13 Eventually, there were different groups of “hunters” for different ethnicities, together making up the CDF. The first were the Tamaboro of the Kuranko ethnic group, then there were the Kamajohs of the Mende, the Donsos of the Limba, and the Kapras (later renamed Gbethis) of the Temne.

14 The actual number of children within the ranks of the fighting forces in Sierra Leone is impossible to calculate. For planning purposes, based on approximate numbers submitted by the factions, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (NCDDR) estimated there would be 45,000 combatants to disarm. Of these 12 percent or 5400 were forecast to be children. Few now dispute that this percentage is a gross under-estimate (Brooks Unpublished Report). UNICEF Sierra Leone later came up with the estimate of 7000, and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimates 10,000.

15 Regarding the comparative aspect, much of what I am saying will apply in the Mano River Union States of Liberia and Guinea as well. The analysis may also be useful in the Great Lakes region (The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi) where Peters, Richards and Vlassenroot point out that the conflict bears many similarities to the West African conflicts with respect to the sub-politics of youth (2003: 13). The point is to start from the bottom up, rather than making grand prescriptions from the outset.

16 For a discussion of the specific problems of girl soldiers in Sierra Leone, see my article “Les Filles-Soldats: Trajectoires d'apres-guerre en Sierra Leone” (Shepler 2002). (See also McKay and Mazurana 2004; Bah 1997).

17 In Sierra Leone, an infant or toddler “

Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2020
send message

    Main page