“Eyes wide, screaming in pain, fear and hatred”
Child soldiers in recent conflicts in Africa have been forced to participate in a number of terrible atrocities
The impact of child soldiers was ramped up to brutal new levels during the African civil wars of the 1990s, with mercenaries, gangs, arms dealers, militias and weakened governments all incorporating children into their ranks. In Liberia, ‘Small Boys Units’ were frequently used by the warlord/president Charles Taylor. Armed with Uzis or AK-47s, children would be used to engage against UN peacekeepers, pillage and plunder communities, or commit mass atrocities. One former child soldier recalled “the scent of gunpowder, eyes stinging from smoke, your friend crying… it was terrible. I missed my mother at that moment.”
Children were also used by the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) to take part in the country’s devastating 1994 genocide. Boys aged 14 and younger, many of them orphaned and desperate for protection, were drugged, kidnapped and sold, then forced to act as combatants taking part in rape, mutilation and the killing of civilians. A staggering 800,000 people were murdered in the space of just 100 days. As the commander of the UN mission in Rwanda said at the time: “Those child soldiers’ eyes were wide and brilliant, screaming in pain and anguish, fear and hatred.” For these fresh-faced fighters, the innocence of youth is short-lived.
A child fighter in the streets of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, 1996