Call to help Liberia's child soldiers

From: Mark Doyle © BBC News (UK Edition)

The lobby group Human Rights Watch says the disarmament and rehabilitation of thousands of child soldiers in Liberia is vital to establishing peace.

In a report published on Monday, Human Rights Watch said much of the Liberian war consisted of children shooting other children. Later this week, the UN is hosting a donors conference on Liberia. Human Rights Watch is calling for funds to help rehabilitate the 15,000 children who fought in the conflict.

War names

Entering the world of Liberia's child soldiers is a disturbing experience. Normal moral values are put to one side. Children as young as eight or nine are forcibly recruited, or in some cases volunteer to avenge violent deaths in their own families. They fire rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles, often killing other children in rival militias.
The Human Rights Watch report has extensive testimony from the estimated 15,000 children who have been engaged in combat. They include children who used war names derived from their actions, names like "Laughing and Killing" or "The Castrator".
During a recent trip to Liberia, I came across a group of former teenage fighters boasting about their exploits in a marketplace in the eastern Liberian town of Zwedru. They had fought for a rebel group against the government of the now exiled President Charles Taylor, many saying they used powerful assault weapons like AK-47s.

Free education

One youth gave his fighter's name, "Bread and Butter". I asked him if he had killed any of Taylor's forces. "Yes, I fired them immediately," he said, laughing.
"How many did you kill?" I asked.
"I killed many."

Human Rights Watch says the Liberian Government and international donors should ensure free primary education as a first step to attracting these children back into society. The group's report calls for an immediate end to the recruitment of all child soldiers and asks all of the donors attending the New York conference later this week to earmark specific and adequate funds for reintegration programmes for child soldiers.

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  • Monday 2nd February 2004


    uploaded by: Robert W. Kranz  2005