Category Archives: Child Soldiers

Hundreds of Child Soldiers Released by South Sudan Militia

South Sudan’s Cobra Faction Releases Hundreds of Child Soldiers

BY MATTHEW GRIMSON

Hundreds of child soldiers were released in South Sudan on Tuesday, UNICEF said, as part of a broader plan to free up to 3,000 young fighters from the country’s civil war.

The release of 300 kids in Pibor, Jonglei State, is part of a peace deal between the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

An initial 280 children, aged between 11 and 17, were released late January. UNICEF said between 2,000 and 3,000 should be freed from the Cobra Faction as it integrates into the SPLA.

The use of child soldiers in South Sudan surged after civil war broke out in December 2013, with UNICEF estimating the number to have peaked somewhere around 12,000. Violence was so rife that many of the children joined the Cobra Faction for protection, according to UNICEF spokeswoman Doune Porter.

“They thought they would be safer in the ranks of the military where they were surrounded by people with guns, and of course many of them were trained in how to use guns,” she said.

However, Porter said the children found life extraordinarily difficult were now “delighted” to be leaving the Cobra Faction.

“I don’t want to be a soldier,” one boy, aged 12, told UNICEF. “I will end up with nothing by being a soldier and I know one day I’ll get killed if I continue being a soldier. First, I want to go to school, then later I want to study medicine.”

A South Sudanese child soldier hides his face with his hands.

“Buret,” 11, the day before his release from the Cobra Faction in late January.

Cobra Faction Lieutenant General Khalid Butrus Bura said there was no longer any need for the children to be among their ranks.

“We want to change the mind-set of the community, so that a father will not need to buy gun and give it to a 10-year-old child so he can take care of the cattle,” he told UNICEF. “We want to change that practice so that the community can send their children to school rather than taking to a gun.”

Porter said the children would now receive counseling and a much sought after education.

“Many of them have never been to school before,” she said. “Most of them can’t read or write and they are so excited about starting their education.”

UNICEF estimates more than 1.9 million people have been displaced since the civil war broke out, with more than 1.4 million currently displaced within South Sudan. More than half of those internally displaced people are estimated to be children.

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Liberia’s Girl Child Soldiers

Shocking Truth Revealed About Liberia’s Former Child Soldiers: They Were Girls

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More than 38,000 children have taken part in Liberia’s war as fighters, porters, and slaves throughout the country’s bloody conflict. But stories of the former child soldiers of Charles Taylor’s armies almost always focus on the boys. What has been largely unrecognized is that a significant number of these soldiers were girls.

A recent Newsweek piece by Clair MacDougall highlights the largely-ignored stories of these former female fighters who now, as women, are having trouble reintegrating into society. Many are deemed “unmarriagable” because of their pasts. They are shunned and impoverished.

The physical and psychological effects of the girls who once fought alongside their brothers and neighbors, often engaging in the same horrific tasks, are highlighted in this recent coverage which incorporates interviews with many of the female former child soldiers. Knowing their stories is extremely important to understanding the potential for real post-conflict reconstruction.

Women are considered a crucial part of Liberia’s economic and political reconstruction. Efforts to rebuild a peaceful and stable Liberia have enjoyed a fair amount of international development aid and attention, and women have been the focus, for example, of Goldman Sachs’ famous 10,000 Women Initiative promoting female entrepreneurship in Liberia to boost the economy and encourage more gender equality in society. Liberia has gained particular attention in the gender and development realm because of the much-lauded election of the country’s female president,Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in the country steadily earn millions of dollars of development money.

But the specific issues affecting former child soldiers have rarely been addressed by such initiatives, which often focus on war-torn families affected by husbands who fought in the war, and ignore the fact that women have also been through these experiences.

One woman interviewed said, “I’m the man for the family … I’m the man because I fought.” She noticed that the government and Western aid agencies almost exclusively focused on helping men re-enter society after fighting. “When you said ‘child soldiers,'” she explained, “everybody looked at the boys.”

Studies show that the mental health effects of bloody wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone have been remarkably painful, given the brutality of the atrocities, making post-conflict reconstruction extremely difficult. One account states that the atrocities in Liberia included “intentional hacking off of limbs, carving the initials of rebel factions into victims’ skin, slaughtering pregnant women to bet on the gender of the unborn child, and use of young girls as human sacrifices.”

Women who lived through these experiences not only suffer from various forms of post-traumatic disorders, but also, it turns out, struggle to find work and establish families. “They are generally not regarded as potential candidates for marriage, and most employers are reluctant to hire them,” one aid worker explained.  “They live in ghettos and hide their past.”

These rare interviews and accounts coming to light long after the conflict has ended are a reminder that Liberia’s former girl soldiers need their stories to be told. As women are becoming a new focus in international development initiatives in Liberia and beyond, attention is shifting to their roles not only as wives and mothers, but also as citizens and entrepreneurs. Their experiences as former soldiers should not be overlooked, and efforts to address this facet of the conflict’s ugly history would benefit from increased attention.