Child Soldiers Case Study 1:

A key similarity in the recruitment experiences of the children is the exploitation of their vulnerability by people with power in all three scenarios. For instance, albeit recruitment into the army was deemed “voluntary”, if children and their families had their basic needs of housing, food, education, etc. met, the number of children recruited may have been much lower. Similarly, had the unaccompanied, orphaned, and other vulnerable children been better off, they would have faced lower risk of recruitment by the rebel forces. The Kamajors exploited children’s need for a sense of purpose/identity. An additional similarity between the three scenarios is an overarching sense of loss predicating recruitment. For example, many children who joined the army had lost families, friends, homes, and schools. Children recruited by rebels had also lost family members. Meanwhile, the Kamajors serve a purpose of reclaiming lost traditional cults and religion. Both the Kamajors and the army did not use overt force in recruitment tactics and both provided an image of heroism. However, while the army appealed to a sense of national identity, Kamajors used religious and cultural identity to attract children. The army had the added incentive of food, security, and income, whereas the Kamajors seemed to rely on social status as the primary incentive. A key difference between the rebels and the other two scenarios is the use of force. The children forced to join the rebels had no connection to the cause. Additionally, belonging to the Kamajors or army was seen as a social norm, whereas fighting for a rebel group may have been considered socially unacceptable.

2) What kind of impact do you think the differing recruitment experiences might have on children associated with an armed group in terms of future development?

Differences in the recruiting strategy employed by the three different armed forces may influence the success or failure of rehabilitation/re-integration efforts. Recruitment into the SLA appeared to be “voluntary”. “Children joined in search of security, protection and food. Other children in search of stimulation and adventure were persuaded to join; some simply followed their relatives and friends to the war front; some children however volunteered to fight for their country, some to revenge and avenge for lost ones.” After the war, these children may have an easier time transitioning back into normal society because they are able to distance themselves from their time in the SLA. They joined the SLA out of necessity: for food, shelter. Now that the war is over, and these things are available to them in civil society, they no longer need to be part of the SLA.

The Kamajors incorporated Sierra Leonean culture and tradition into their practices, drawing upon traditional forms of warfare and ritualized initiation rites. Kamajors equated being a Kamajor to being a true Sierra Leonean. And during a civil war where a nation’s identity and culture was being torn apart, this recruiting strategy must have struck a powerful chord. Children recruited into the Kamajor, may have more difficulty transitioning back into normal society because being a Kamajor played an important role in constructing their identity. Unlike the children in the SLA, they did not join out of neccessity. They joined because they believed in the ideology promulgated by the Kamajors.

The rebels forcibly recruited children into their ranks. Although children, in and of themselves are a vulnerable group, the rebels abducted the most vulnerable subset of children into their organization: unaccompanied children, children from female-headed households, orphans and children from vulnerable families. Rebel child soldiers are different from child soldiers in the SLA and the Kamajors because they did not choose to fight for the rebels. Also, because they were forcibly recruited and came from such vulnerable backgrounds, they may have experienced more exploitation and abuse compared to child soldiers in the SLA or Kamajors. Also, it is possible that for some forcibly recruited children, being a rebel soldier might have appealed to them. Coming from such disadvantaged backgrounds, they may have felt a sense of pride from being feared rebel fighter.

3. What do you think of the descriptions of children who ‘joined voluntarily’?

These children most likely did not join any of these fighting force enthusiastically, but rather, because a lack of acceptable alternatives. Had basic necessities for survival such as food, shelter, security, and an adult caregiver been available in a scenario outside of joining a fighting force, the children enrolled as child soldiers would have most likely chosen that option. A small exception might have been to those children that “chose” to join the Kamajors because of the pride associated with being a member of the elite fighting force. However, if those children could have earned the same pride while succeeding in a job or educational situation and had their basic needs met, it highly likely that they would have chosen the alternative to being a soldier.

4. In what ways do these case studies aid an understanding of the local situation?

These case studies highlight the differences in recruitment tactics and reasons that children any of the three groups, and thus the different strategies needed to assist in the rehabilitation and reintegration of the children back in to society. It may be necessary to focus on the ways to best serve the new Sierra Leone and to be a good citizen for those children that volunteered/served in the Sierra Leonean military, while stressing safety and security might be more important for those children than joined the rebel forces.