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Child Soldiers and the War in Sierra Leone

Child Soldiers and the War in Sierra Leone

Human Rights advocate Fayia Sellu recently conducted a talk in San Francisco, USA sensitizing the crowd to Sierra Leone’s past and the effect of war, civil or otherwise on children.  Mr. Sellu concluded his talk emphasizing how individuals can serve his beautiful homeland, Sierra Leone, through activities such as the Peace Corps or volunteering, home and abroad (see transcript below).

Sierra Leone is a former British colony in West Africa with a population of about 5.5 million people and a land mass of some 72,000 + square miles. It gained independence from colonial rule in April 1961 and has invariably had multi-party democracy, one-party and military dictatorships in most of the last half of the past century. The socio-economic malaise that resulted from bad governance laid the seedbed for civil strife. It was only a matter of time and chance—Liberia the neighboring country had started their own civil war—before the war broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991. That war that was to rage for a decade saw huge chunks of rural Sierra Leone descend into decadence. It engendered human, infrastructural and moral rot. Yes, moral because thousands of children were robbed of their innocence and childhood.

Children who were supposed to be in school getting an education and help build the country’s future were recruited into fighting forces some as early as the age of seven. These kids who were previously raised in gregarious communities in which respect for elders was paramount were forced to slaughter elders in their communities—as a way to ensure that they were forever beholden to their captors. These kids would then be rashly trained how to shoot AK47s and unleashed on unsuspecting civilian targets.

 With this mode of recruitment, the Small Boys Unit of the Revolutionary United Front—the name for child soldiers and the chief warring faction– were very effective in doing the bidding of the commanders as they had less demands and maximum loyalty. They were worse victims as well as perpetrators according to testimony of other victims. Sierra Leone has one of the largest population of amputees, estimated around ten thousand. Such dastardly acts such as amputations, arson were actually committed also by children. 

It is hard enough to explain that children were uprooted from their communities, displaced and became refugees in lands they would have never known. What is even tougher and the purpose of my talk here today is to emphasize the loss of innocence by children becoming perpetrators, not just victims. It is a fact that UNICEF and the countless child rights organizations may be doing their best to eradicate or alleviate the impact or hunger, disease and illiteracy among children on the Globe.  But what sense does it make if we can’t give children their chief need which is their childhood.

When children are targeted for drafting into any fighting forces, we do just that; we are taking away the opportunity of childhood innocence, be it forcefully as in my country or via the luring of post-service benefits or recruitment bonuses here in the U.S. and elsewhere.  I am taking the liberty to say tonight that we could all rest assured Liz Cheney would not be recruited, neither will the Bush or Obama daughters. It is poor or low income people whose children will go and fight the wars for them—any side of the Atlantic. Yes it is the same everywhere-be it Third or First World. Another thing, I wanted to add that it is so difficult to fight an occupational war. I have seen the realities in my country: How can you tell a rebel form a Sierra Leonean as a foreign troop or Taliban or still, Al QEUDA from the Afghan?

Please, ladies and gentlemen there are better ways to serve this beautiful country, such as Peace Corps or volunteering, home and abroad. And please let children be children. I should know much about that, I lost part my youth to a senseless war.  

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