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Child Soldiers, Sex Slaves in Sierra Leone

In her article published in the New York Times this Sunday, journalist Jan Goodwin wrote of the children who are being abducted by Government and opposition forces for work as soldiers and sex slaves in Sierra Leone's civil war.

Girls and boys as young as 7 or 8 years old make up 40-50% of the opposition's forces, and about 25% of the Government's Civil Defense Forces. Young children are thought to make excellent soldiers because they are dependent, eager to please, and make few demands. In fact, many fear them more than adult soldiers. A man from Freetown commented, "These kids are very scary, more erratic and more violent than most fighters. They obey any order, no matter how brutal."

Goodwin profiled the horrific experiences of three children in her article. The first unnamed boy, referred to as M.G., was abduction by anti-government Revolutionary United Front and forced at gunpoint to shoot members of his village at the tender age of 10. Now 13, M.G. described what happened on that fateful day. "I fired, and kept firing. I watched them fall. Their limbs were twitching. It took them a long time to die--about three minutes. Then I vomited. It was the first time I killed."

M.G. now says that he has no idea how many people he has murdered and has lost sight in his right eye in an especially brutal attack. He misses his family and his dog, but cannot return to his village after what he has done. The last time he attempted to return, angry villagers tried to kill him for revenge.

Young girls in Sierra Leone face an equally cruel fate. A thirteen-year-old girl referred to as I. told the story of how she and six other girls were abducted, brutally raped, and forced to watch while rebels mutilated and murdered three girls who had dared to resist their attacks. The surviving girls were later bound by the ankles, side by side, and gang-raped for days on end. I. was raped so many times and so brutally that she couldn't walk for two weeks afterward.

Girls are also forced to block enemy bullets with their bodies, to transport equipment, to steal and to cook. A few serve as soldiers, along with their male peers. I's friend M. was murdered by Government forces after she was impregnated through rape by the opposition. "They slit open her stomach. I will never forget her cries," said I.

Like the boys, girls cannot return to their villages after fighting ceases. Girls who are not virgins are rejected by their families and often forced into prostitution. Although their is a ritual that is thought to "purify" boys and girls and restore their honor, those rituals are so expensive that most cannot afford them.

Although President Ahmad Tajan Kabban has ordered his Government army to stop using child soldier, his order has not been enforced, despite pressure from the international community. Deputy Minister of Defense Hinga Norman said that huge numbers of orphaned children and widespread poverty caused by years of civil war will make change difficult. "Kids need a place to eat and sleep. Unless the country can provide that, why move them?"

Media Resources: New York Times - February 14, 1999

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