Child Soldier Relief is creating a three part series on the Charles Taylor Trial; the second report in the series explores Charles Taylor’s use of child soldiers.
The Council of Foreign Relations reports that in the late eighties and early nineties Charles Taylor recruited child soldiers into his National Patriotic Front of Liberia movement and created the Small Boys Unit, a group of child soldiers within his rebel movement.
As President of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, Charles Taylor allegedly also sought child soldiers in the most recent conflict between Liberia and Sierra Leone. One of the reasons child soldiers were sought by Taylor and rebel groups is that children don’t fully understand the danger that faces them in battle. In fact, according to IRIN, child soldiers are “highly prized for being fearless in combat.” A militia commander in Liberia told IRIN why he thinks child soldiers can be the “best and bravest” on the front line, “They can fight more than we the big people….It’s hard for them to just retreat.”
Because of their “fearlessness” child soldiers were often used as officers. “These children were given high positions. They were called colonel and general, and this made them feel like they had power,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Michael Charley about child soldiers in Sierra Leone.
As Gloria and Mary, two former child soldiers in Liberia, explain in a video by the Guardian, girls taken as child soldiers had extra burdens to bear: being raped at the will of soldiers. “…For a girl, sometimes we used to be raped by [the soldiers] not just by one person, sometimes by two or three and afterwards we still had to carry [weapons] to the frontline. So the girls were maltreated more than the boys,” said Gloria.
“When I think about the war, I think of doing bad things to myself. Sometimes I just want to kill myself…but if I think about the future I will be happy,” said Gloria.
For more on the Charles Taylor Trial…