The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan

A Survey of Programs on the Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers

2. Country Profiles
2.3. Liberia

2.3.1. Current State of Armed Conflict

The roots of the Liberia's civil war, and its consequences for children, go as far back as it founding in 1847 by freed American slaves. New settlers, known as Americo-Liberians for 133 years, subsequently controlled the fledgling republic. They ran their new country like a colony, establishing a feudal structure with all social, economic and political power in their hands. In the name of this Christianizing and civilizing mission, the indigenous population who outnumbered their colonists by twenty to one, were subjected to wave of abuse, including forced labor, disenfranchisement, and exclusion from the coastal, enclave economy, all of which led to their impoverishment and cultural alienation while the ruling class prospered.

By 1970s, however, this once unassailable power structure was beginning to show sign of crumbling as a new constituency of disaffected, often foreign educated, Liberians, as well as schooled indigenous technocrats, joined forces in various opposition groups and began voicing their demands for reform. Their dissatisfaction culminated in 1979 with the "rice riots," a two-thousand-strong protest, sparked off by a 50 percent increase in the local staple, which turned to mayhem when police began firing into the crowed, killing more than one hundred protesters. It was this growing discontent that paved the way in 1980 for the military coup that brought Samuel Doe, a Krahn from Tuzon, to power. Although he himself later became a symbol for greed and corruption, the new president's bloody debut was initially welcomed by the majority of Liberians as an end to more than a century of colonization.

The years that followed were marked by mounting unrest due to an increasingly Krahn-dominated authoritarian regime that promoted the joint militarization and ethnically based politics and reigned over a sagging economy characterized by burgeoning inflation and growing unemployment. Against this background, other ethnic cliques began plotting their own rise to power, culminating in 1985 with a brutally suppressed coup attempt by Thomas Quiwonkpa, an ethnic Gio from Nimba County of Liberia. After murdering Quiwonkpa, Doe's soldiers, the Krahn dominated Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) began a bloody campaign of reprisal killings, mainly targeted at Gios and Manos, a closely related group that resides in the same region of Liberia.

In December 1989, a small group of armed rebels led by ex-civil servant (Charles Taylor), himself an Americo-Liberian, invaded Nimba County from the Ivory Coast. They called themselves the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). The AFL responded with ruthless counterinsurgency campaign, indiscriminately killing civilians, burning villages, raping women and looting. In respond, NPFL ranks swelled with the long-victimized Gios and Manos, many of whom were boys orphaned during the waves of reprisal killings or simply enraged by the attacks against their people. Meanwhile, the NPFL was conducting its own reign of terror on civilians and suspected supporters of the Doe regime, primarily members of the Krahn and Mandingo group. By 1990, the rebel group had over-taken every military position, counties except Monrovia the capital city of Liberia.

What ensued was a slow burning seven year of war fuelled by the formation of one ethnic-based rival group after another. By 1992, the NPFL splinter group, the Independent National Patriotic Front (INFL), which captured and killed Doe, hand already reached its zenith and faded. But the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO), formed by Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone who had been loyal to Doe, were making gains from across the border into southwestern Liberia. In 1993, the Liberia Peace Council (LPC), a largely Krahn offshoot of the AFL, challenged the NPFL and gained significant control over the southeast.

More than half Liberia war ravage population is comprised of children.13 Of the 1.4 million children, it is estimated that as many as 15,000 have served as child soldiers in Liberia's civil war. The data collected from 4,306 of child soldiers comprises 20% percent of the total number of fighters demobilized. This follow the same pattern as the data collected of adults. Majority of fighters demobilized were between 15 and 28 when they turned in their guns. Of those 17 and under, majority 69% were in the age range of 15 to 17 followed by 27 percent between the ages of 12 to 14. About 4% were 10 or 11 with the remaining children, less than 1%, aged 9 years or below and young as 6. The fact that 69% of the child fighters were between the ages of 15 and 17 when they disarmed, it can be concluded that they were as young as 10 or 12 when they joined. In addition, a significant portion of those demobilizing as adults and who are now in the range of 18 to 22 years old would have been children when they joined. However, it is important to note that when reviewing the data that it describes only those fighters who demobilized and as such, not truly reflecting the composition and characteristics of the fighting force as whole.

Although all of the relevant peace accords called for the encampment of ex-combatants during the disarmament and demobilization phase, there existed in Liberia neither the political will nor the resources from donors to implement such a scheme. Unlike previous DDR plans that have been readily supported and funded by the international community elsewhere, the Liberian program received less than enthusiastic response and a strong disinclination from donors to spend money on it. For example, the annual budget of the United Nations Operation Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) was equivalent to the cost of five days of UN peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia.14 As a result, the entire demobilization process for ex-combatants in Liberia was not more than 12 hours. With exception of the short-lived 1994 demobilization exercise, which called for holding of some young ex-combatants, this decision also applied to child soldiers. Both adults and child soldiers suffered the same amount of trauma during the war. But this too was not given a priority during the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former child soldiers.

2.3.2. Domestic Framework of Protection of Children

As far as the records shows, there is no domestic framework for the Protection of children in Liberia. There is only abroad understanding of the demobilization process for former child soldiers in Liberia. In the subsequent demobilization phase, they undergo a process designed to mark their transition into civilian life and break the chain of command between them and their commanders. Finally, the fighters in general and child soldiers in particular are "reintegrated" into civil society through a process that allows them to become productive members of the community once more.

The legal framework for this process was provided for in the Cotonou Accord (July 1993) and subsequently supplemented, amended and clarified by the Agreements of Akosombo (September 1994), Accra (December 1994) and Abuja (1995). However, these agreements only broadly describe the modality of disarmament and demobilization, leaving the financing and most of the planning involved to the designated organizations. These included Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community Of Governments (ECOMOG), the UN and other International groups. ECOMOG was specifically charged with conducting disarmament under the observation of UNOMIL. The UN observer mission was also called upon, along with other international organizations, to carry out the demobilization process. In late 1995, however, the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) decided to reassign the responsibility for demobilization as well as initial-phase reintegration to the recently established UNDHA-HACO. As a military observer group, UNOMIL continued, however, to monitor the disarmament phase.

With each new peace agreement promising disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former child soldiers, childcare agencies were asked to determine how best to meet the special needs children. It was felt that these small soldiers due to their young age and immaturity would need special guidance in under going the transition from military to civilian life. Unlike adult who presumably could take care of him or her after demobilizing, children had to be reunited with their families in order to restore them to their proper place in civil society.

2.3.3. The Dimensions of the Problem of Child Soldiers

Due to the lack of accurate and reliable information, this sector could not be completed. It was then decided to leave it blank till more information is obtained in the future.

The table below elaborates the type of trauma suffered by child soldiers during the war.

Table 10. Trauma suffered during the war in Liberia15

Type of incidence Percentage of Trauma suffered Percentage of Trauma inflicted Percentage of others
Relative died of war-related causes 52% 0% 0%
Family member tortured 28% 0% 0%
Shot at least 5-7 people 0% 51% 0%
Village and/or home destroyed 63% 0% 0%
Tortured 0% 17% 0%
Sexually abused 37% 0% 0%
Self tortured or beaten 11% 0% 0%
Detained 31% 0% 0%
Practice cannibalism 0% 3.2% 0%

In Liberia, planning for the first formal attempt to demobilize combatants began in November 1993. Soon after, the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR); a Task Force chaired by UNOMIL with representatives from the transitional government, ECOMOG, NGOs and donors was created. Meanwhile, the Technical Working Group on Child Soldiers, jointly chaired by UNICEF and the national NGO Children's Assistance Program (CAP) was convened to make special recommendations on the demobilization of child soldiers. As the first significant population of Liberian child soldiers accessible to humanitarian community, it was decided thorough assessments be under taken of their condition. Thus, a round-the-clock staff of caregivers one for every 10 children to look after their basic needs while social workers help to trace their families and facilitate their reintegration into the community and counselors helped them come to terms with their past.

2.3.4. Measures taken to address the problem by:

a) Government, b) UN agencies, c) External donors and NGOs

Given the time constraints, it was not possible to access information with regard to measures taken to address problem of DDR or programs dedicated to former child soldiers in Liberia. Some of the difficulties are results of an integrated approach undertaken by many UN agencies and NGOs alike. This situation underscore the need for a more reliable, more systematic and accurate information gathering.

The table below describes the number of NGOs involved in this operation during the DDR for former child soldiers in Liberia.

Table 11. NGOs involved in the DDR programs for former child soldiers in Liberia

Entity #0f child soldiers Activity In cooperation with Length of the program Funded by # Of staff Others
UNICEF UNICEF was coordinating the overall child protection policy and therefore did not collect the accurate figure for this survey War-affected youth programs CAP, SDP, COHDA 1994-1996 LWS This figure was provided at this point --
AME Small number not more 50 Vocational training COHDA, CAP, SDP and DBH 1994-1996 LWS and UNICEF AME did not provide the number of their to the researcher at this juncture --
SCF-UK Information was requested but the researcher is yet to hear from SCF-UK regarding this issue Trade skills and learning programs CAP, CHAL and COHDA 1994-1996 Own It was not provided --
CHAL This NGO did not provide this information at this point Conflict resolution and reconciliation None 1992-1996 UNDP and UNICEF Since it was funded by UNDP and UNICEF, it was difficult to establish whose were on the field. --
DBH Figures were not possible to keep because many former child soldiers went back to their former commanders. Reunification SCF-UK 1994-1996 SCF-UK DBH and SCF did not get back to the researcher on time with this information. --
WACH This center only consisted of small number. War trauma UNICEF and DBH 1994-1996 UNICEF and DBH UNICEF and USAID did not provide this information at this time.. --

The total number of fighters demobilized in Liberia was reported to be around 21,315 and out of that 4,306 former child soldiers were successfully demobilized.16 The table below represents the total number of child soldiers demobilized between 1992 and 1997.

Table 12. Child soldiers demobilized between 1992 and 1997

Year Demobilization Adult ex-combatants # Of Child soldiers Total number
1992 Child POWs -- 89 89
1994 General 3,436 230 3,666
1995-1996 Spontaneous Unknown Unknown 625
1996 Fendall17 359 69 428
1996-1997 General 17,009 4,306 21,315
1997 Spontaneous 130 0 130
20,934 4694 26,253

The typical child soldier in Liberia was a boy in primary school when he joined the faction (s). After spending a considerable time of 3-5 years fighting, he disarmed when he was between the ages of 15 and 17, placing him between the tender ages of eight to 12 when he first picked up a gun. It would however appear from the limited data collected so far that not all the factions made equal use of child soldiers. In the table below, representation will show the percentage of child soldier present in each faction during the war in Liberia.

Table 13. Percentage of child soldiers in each faction during the war in Liberia

Faction Percentage of child soldier Years spend in the faction Others
AFL 18% 4-5 --
NPFL 18% 4-5 --
ULIMO-J 36% 3-5 --
LPC 37% 3-5 --
INFL 1% -- --
Others 6% 4-5 --

2.3.5. Impact of measures

Information in this sector has not yet been obtained because of slow response of the NGOs' field offices and also because the programs are ongoing and therefore compilation of the impact not yet felt. In addition, it was not easy to access the information in the regular channels.

13 In Liberia, children are defined as anyone 17 yeas or younger. The same definition was used during demobilization in 1996.

14 An International Review of Peace Initiatives, The Liberian Peace Process, 1990-1996.

15 A collaborative report by UNICEF-Liberia and the US. National Committee for UNICEF. 1994-1997: the process and Lessons Learned.

16 This number does not conform with either ECOMOG or UNOMIL disarmament figures because it includes child fighters who were demobilized without weapon at the time.

17 Fendall is a University of Liberia Campus where sizable number of children was demobilized in 1996.

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