History and Prevalence of Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone
In the early 1990s, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone, led by former military agents invaded Sierra Leone from Liberia. The RUF initially said they were leading a political movement. Their main goals were to promote liberation, democracy, and freedom. They said they wanted justice and equality for all civilians living in Sierra Leone. In spite of what the RUF said they were doing, they were forceful and left trails of murder in their path. When civilians lacked support for the “political revolution”, the RUF started a decade long war that ravaged the country as a whole. The RUF developed a sense of structured, militarized violence. It created a climate of opportunities for average civilians to obtain cheap weapons. With the greater access to weapons for civilians and the RUF, the politics became more militarized also. As the war waged on, poverty rose and people began to resort to looting of national resources. Laws diminished and seemed to lack any strength against the brute force of the RUF and their civilian followers (Denov, 2010).
These conditions, caused by structural violence and weakened social systems, had severe consequences for all, but more so for children the children of Sierra Leone. Children make up the mass majority of the population of Sierra Leone. Because of the war, children had even less access to standardized education, they suffered immensely because of the unemploy¬ment of their parents, and thousands of children resorted to the struggle of surviving on the street (Zack-Williams, 2001). Children were preyed on by “thugs”. Soon children were unknowingly recruited as “child soldiers.” (It must be known that the term child soldier is not limited to children in combat. Child soldiers can also be laborers, spies, and/or any other job that they are placed in by the armed force that they are associated with.) Within the next few months, there was a rise of “rebels,” or people fighting with the RUF.
Following this rise, almost half a million impressionable children (both boys and girls) under the age of 18, became active in the Sierra Leone war (Denov, 2010). According to Theresa S. Betancourt (2010), approximately 98% of children were recruited by force. Some children were viciously coerced by threats and beatings to them and/or their families. Because children are easily manipulated, these children were very willing to identify with the social, religious, or patriotic causes that the RUF was presenting. For many children, the ability to have power over others seemed to be a means to an end. The power of a gun in their hands led them to believe they could escape poverty. The acceptance of joining forces was truly the only way to survive. Any unwillingness resulted in extreme violence, terror, and worse. These children were recruited because they were easily manipulated into performing suicide missions. They were also made into vicious soldiers...