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It is Human Rights Watch's position that no one under the age of eighteen should be recruited, either voluntarily or involuntarily, into any armed forces whether governmental or non-governmental in nature. During the war, both UNITA and the government forcibly recruited children into the conflict in violation of treaties and conventions to which they were bound. Armed forces on both sides subjected them to torture and ill treatment, hazardous duty, and in the case of girls, sexual violence. The recruitment and use of children violated their fundamental human rights and prevented them from attaining the highest standard of health, education, and development. In her statement to the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, Graça Machel, who headed the study, summarized the effect of war on children's rights: "War violates every right of the child-the right to life, the right to grow up in a family environment, the right to health, the right to survival and full development and the right to be nurtured and protected, among others."11

Boys Who Served with UNITA

The exact number of children used by UNITA since 1998 remains unknown, although estimates put the number of children who bore arms for UNITA at 6,000.12 The actual number is likely much higher. Arriving at a more exact figure depends in part on the definition used. The definition favored by the international community and promoted by Human Rights Watch, is known as the Cape Town definition which defines a child soldier as "any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers, and those accompanying such groups, other than purely as family members."13 Fitting this description to the Angolan civil war, thousands more should be added to this figure of 6,000.

As UNITA soldiers moved through towns and villages, children and families were forced to follow them. While some children may have willingly worked for UNITA, others were abducted when walking to schools, markets, and their homes. Children captured in these raids served as "apprentice-soldiers" or "auxiliaries." Given menial tasks at first, some of these soldiers-in-training were later given arms and weapons training and became fighters. All children interviewed for this report described the harsh conditions of the war, the strict hierarchy of UNITA, and their desire to put their difficult pasts behind them. Some representative examples follow (as elsewhere in this report, their names have been changed to protect their identity).14

Marcos M. told Human Rights Watch:

I was thirteen when the soldiers came and took me away. I was alone in my house because my parents had gone to the town center and somehow were not there when the soldiers arrived. The armed men told me that it was my duty to help them and they gave me stolen materials to carry. I had no choice. I was not treated badly at first. Later, they gave me arms, ammunitions, and grenades.15

Manoel P. had a similar experience:

I was taken away in 1999 when I was thirteen years old. At first, I was used to transport arms, supplies, and other materials. There were other children in our group, about thirty. We were soon given training on how to fight. We shot with AK-47s and other weapons. I was the youngest in my troop of about seventy, children and adults. We were on the front lines and I was sick, with bouts of malaria and often not enough to eat. I was in the troop only because they captured me in the first place. This wasn't my decision.16

Like other boys interviewed for this report, Luiz J. also fought in the war. "I was involved in the fighting and in the action. At first, I was used to carry goods and help make food, later I was trained to fight. At fourteen, I was the youngest boy in my unit, although there were others of fifteen and sixteen. I saw people with their arms being blown off. . ."17

A child's role in the combat was linked to his size and length of service with UNITA. Younger and inexperienced children would perform unskilled tasks, while larger boys would bear arms. A man in his twenties who was held by UNITA for several months explained that only children who were accustomed to the guerrilla spirit would be chosen for the fighting forces. This required knowledge of the movement and trust won from the soldiers. The other factor was the size of the child; more physically developed children were chosen for arms training and offered the prestige of a uniform.

A journalist working in a southeastern province interviewed children in a UNITA camp where at first they claimed to have operated radios, and only later admitted to fighting. One boy gave details of his training at Jamba UNITA headquarters in Cuando Cubango province on the use of automatic weapons; he had been sent out to fight at fourteen years. Similarly, a number of the children interviewed by Human Rights Watch first spoke of transporting arms and only later revealed their involvement in the fighting. This reticence makes it imperative that Angolan authorities implement a substantive demobilization program that both involves children and is tailored to meet their needs based on their varying experiences in the war. Only with a more complete picture of the role and extent that children played in the fighting can an adequate rehabilitation program be provided.18

Serving as a porter itself could be extremely dangerous. Carlos B. told us:

I was with my family, we left because of the war--the fighting came and we had to flee. I was sixteen years old. For our work, we had to carry heavy things. Mortar shells for example. There were other children in my group, we were a group of between thirty and forty children aged fourteen to sixteen. Our main job was to carry ammunition from the bases in the altura (heights) to the front lines. It was difficult work because the loads were heavy. We were often hungry and without proper clothes and sometimes it would happen that people would "disappear."19

Seventeen-year-old João F.:

There was a time when the government forces attacked our villages, so I had to flee with my brothers, uncles, and father. I was responsible for carrying the pack of my uncle, his materials, weapon, and ammunition. I would go into the bush at night to forage for food. This could be hazardous if you were spotted by a group of government fighters. I also had to carry messages back and forth to the front lines, sometimes during the fighting. It was dangerous because you were on the front, in combat. If you didn't have luck you could be captured or be killed. Finally, I was sometimes made to go on patrol, this meant to spy on the troops of the government and see what they were doing at their bases.

During the night when I was out with other children collecting food, we were captured by government troops. We were ten kids in total. The youngest was thirteen at the time.20

Marcos M. has moved so many times since his birth that he was unable to answer where his true home was located:

I worked with the troops for almost three years. There were many children, we all did the same work, we carried arms and other things. We helped with the cooking and gathering of firewood. I carried AK-47s and grenades, but I didn't do any fighting, that was for the older kids, those over fifteen.

I would carry arms for a great distance, sometimes for over eight hours each day. It was very dangerous and exhausting work. If many troops arrived from the other side, then you would "disappear."21

Once taken in with UNITA, children were subjected to the rigors of life in the armed forces. Discipline was harsh and the penalty for escape was death. Children demobilized in 1996 explained that when one child who had escaped was captured, the others would have to assist in his execution even if that person were a family member. Children taken since 1997 have described similar practices in which abducted boys were forced to watch an escapee killed with an axe to serve as a lesson. Children who were too tired to continue marching or who collapsed under an especially heavy load would be threatened with death. All children interviewed suffered extreme hardship and psychological stress from conditions in which the slightest infraction could mean beating or whipping. These examples only underline the need for psychosocial counseling and assistance for former child soldiers specific to their experiences.22

João F. told us: "If you didn't comply with orders, you would be punished, sometimes killed. Children were punished too. Myself, I was whipped twice for disobeying orders. Other children were beaten with heavy sticks."23

Miguel R., sixteen-years old, recalled:

Discipline was strict, you would be punished with the whip for a wrongdoing. Other times you were tied up with a rope or did not receive any food. Or sent out into areas which were mined or where there were enemy troops to look for food. I wanted to leave the bush and return home to my family but wasn't allowed. You had to ask permission for this and it was not granted. I suffered a lot in the bush, I was only eleven when I was taken.24

Luiz J. said:

You couldn't leave without getting your orders, if you were found outside an area where you were commanded to be, you faced punishment. I was whipped several times for not obeying orders, it was very strict and we were often hungry, tired and cold. It was easy to make mistakes. Other punishment might be to carry especially heavy loads, to be forced to cut branches or to be held in water for several hours at night. I saw one man kept in water for five hours. It was very cold that night. Another humiliating punishment was to be forced to the ground and roll around, back and forth, until you were ordered to stop.25

Girls in UNITA
Girls under the age of eighteen also served with UNITA. Like boys, some were abducted individually while others were rounded up with family members during sweeps through their villages. Girls were used as cooks, domestics, and porters in roles similar to that of boys. Women and girls were also given to UNITA commanders and visitors and forced into sexual relations. Other girls were forced into marriages with UNITA combatants. Refusals were met with punishment and attempts to escape often meant death. Access to girls held in UNITA areas after the war was difficult. There was stricter control over girls than boys by the civilian leaders in the camps we visited, and in semi-private group interviews we were unable to determine whether any girls took part in active combat. Girls themselves may also be reticent and less willing to come forward and speak about their past. Only through a demobilization program that accounts for the needs of girls will their true roles and numbers be known and their rehabilitation begin.

A child rights expert working in Luanda estimated that the number of underage wives married to UNITA soldiers rests somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000. She cautioned that because access to these girls had been limited, she was unaware of how many may still be alive, under the age of eighteen and wishing to leave their current domestic situation.26 Another international NGO worker expressed the difficulty in reaching out to girls in the camps despite their geographic concentration. She cited controls by the camp hierarchy as one reason why working with these girls had been problematic. She further explained that girls were not easily visible as a distinct group in the camps. Younger girls were living with families, whether related to them or not, and were taking care of the children and others in the family. Older girls may still be occasionally visited by their husbands and would not necessarily identify themselves as single mothers.27

According to one women's rights activist, a girl may prefer to stay with her husband even if she were sexually abused in the relationship. With little other choice available, she may see this as preferable to living as a single mother with the social stigma that accompanies it. A young girl living alone also could be seen as a threat by other women living around her and as competition for their husbands' affections. Fearing community rejection and needing assistance from other women, a girl may prefer to stay with a nearly absent or abusive husband than to suggest publicly she is single. She may see her husband as an economic burden but a social advantage. This activist stressed that while this might be the case for some girls, other may choose a different course of action if options were available, especially for those forced into particularly abusive situations.28

Given such a choice, one sixteen-year-old girl, abducted in the last years of the war and made the wife of a UNITA commander, abandoned her husband and reunited with her family. According to a local NGO worker who assisted with her rehabilitation, she was obliged to perform domestic duties, including forced sexual relations with the commander during her time with UNITA. Made to go out into the fields, she would search for food and provide it to the soldiers. If she did not come back with an amount deemed sufficient, she was not allowed to eat herself. In times of fighting, she transported military goods while retreating and was more than once caught in the cross-fire. Initially interned in UNITA's Mimbota quartering area outside Luanda, she was later released to her family after they had contacted her through a national tracing program. She was able to leave despite the objections of her husband in the camp because of the insistence of her family and the work of the activist-an option the activist later suggested that many girls in her situation do not have.29

One man who served with UNITA told us that girls were used primarily as cooks and domestics but also as sexual slaves. When attacks came and UNITA troops were victorious, these girls "would dance, they would voice loud shouts to offer and proclaim the victory." It was following such celebration that girls would be sexually abused, given out to the various commanders as rewards for their bravery. He told us that girls attached to different commanders would also be assigned the dangerous duty of carrying things to the front to assist them. When there was an attack, they were made to retreat with their war materials.30

Reports of dancing and the giving of girls as rewards mirrors testimony collected by Human Rights Watch from Angolan refugee women in Zambia who formerly lived with UNITA. Women and girls referred to dancing for the troops as a precursor to sexual relations with soldiers. They were then turned into "wives" and made to cook, clean, farm, dance, and engage in sexual relations. Those that complained were beaten and any caught trying to escape were killed or their families punished. Faced with a choice that could mean death, some risked flight rather than continue living with their husbands.31 Testimonies gathered by Doctors Without Borders in 2001 and 2002 similarly detailed the common practice of using girls as domestics and for sexual exploitation. 32

An Angolan health worker in one of the camps told Human Rights Watch that there had been few cases of rape and sexual assault since the interning of UNITA soldiers. But the large number of teenage mothers and pregnant girls in the camp was of concern and evidence of the early sexual activity of girls either through force or volition. Her fear was for the future of these girls and their health, especially considering that some have no family or a community to return to and the inadequate state of health care in Angola. In the same camp, Human Rights Watch encountered a number of pregnant girls among those aged twelve to fifteen.33

These same girls spoke of the difficulty of their lives in the war, the hardships they faced, and their hopes for the future. They highlighted the need for education and their desires to be teachers, doctors, and mothers. Currently attending classes run by adults in the camps, they hoped to resettle in their home communities and return to primary school. Because we were not granted permission to speak to these girls individually or in a private setting, we did not pose sensitive questions about sexual abuse or details about their role in the war. Boys interviewed privately for this report shared information about the experience of girls in UNITA.

Miguel R. told Human Rights Watch:

There were three girls in the troop with us, and they would carry materials, arms, supply packs, and other things. They were thirteen, ten, and eight years old. The loads that they carried were heavy, these were young girls, we all suffered in the bush. They are not here in the camp but they went away.34

Luiz J. said:

Girls would help by carrying food and materials on their heads. They also prepared the food when we arrived at camp. I worked with two girls that were sixteen to help make food....It was dangerous because you are on the front lines in the combat, but there were no girls there, not there on the front in the fighting, but working behind the lines.35

International agencies have experienced problems in identifying orphaned girls and young mothers in the camps. In the recent past in Angola, children in many parts of the country belonged to the collective group and not just to individual parents. It was the responsibility of the entire community to raise children and girls were especially valued for their domestic assistance. Following this practice, families in many of the UNITA camps have taken in orphaned girls and widowed child mothers raising them together with their own children. One child rights worker in Luanda explained that while this kind of family care for children was preferable, it had complicated girls inclusion in counseling and programming. When international aid workers pose questions about the existence of orphaned children or child heads of households, adult respondents may misunderstand and present all children living with them as their own. Identification of girls who likely served in combat is also hampered by the fact that the delivery of food aid to households is determined by family size: some adults reportedly have found it advantageous to claim these girls in order to increase their benefits.36

A Catholic sister working with disadvantaged groups in the camps and transit centers emphasized that reaching out to girls in a demobilization program would be difficult but not impossible. Because many of these girls will eventually be in homes with families or their husbands and often caring for children, they may not be aware that such programs exist or how to access them. Correctly identifying these girls now and tracing them to their homes may be one way to ensure that they are not forgotten in the future. Further, she believed that some girls may feel ashamed to be publicly known as a victim of sexual violence and afraid to come forward and speak out. For her, programs designed to work with girls at places where they might otherwise congregate--schools, churches and markets--might be the best places for outreach and their social reintegration. She deplored the current lack of assistance and programs designed to assist girls who remain a largely invisible group.37

Child Soldiers Used by the FAA

The FAA also used children in the fighting, though to a lesser extent than UNITA. An estimated 3,000 boys under the age of eighteen may have served with the FAA in the last years of the fighting.38 Government roundups and press-ganging of males occurred in poorer neighborhoods that targeted the unemployed. These conscriptions or rusgas were often conducted at night and in outlying sections of urban areas. The youngest children taken and those who could bribe their way out were often released, but many more underaged boys were transported to military bases in different provinces and pressed into service.39

During these roundups, a lack of proper identification meant that the majority of children could not prove their true age, despite national legislation that prohibits their recruitment. Although military personnel would release some of the smaller ones, those that appeared capable and strong were recruited. One child soldier interviewed in 2000 by Red Barnet, Save the Children Fund-Norway, said he was aged thirteen at the time he began his service in the FAA. The determining factor in his recruitment was not his proclaimed age but rather his size. Deemed fit enough to fight, he was taken to a military camp.40

A priest who works with former child soldiers told us that many of the children taken were victims of these conscription practices. The reluctance of members of the general public to serve in the armed forces in the later years of the war pushed the government to take anyone they could find, including children. Of the approximately fifty former FAA child soldiers the priest counsels, the youngest is twelve and the eldest eighteen. The majority are between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. Most of these children were trained during the war in skills such as mechanics, radio operations, and repair work. All the boys he works with were conscripted after the last round of fighting began in 1998. Children were also given arms training as part of their basic training at military camps and fought directly in the war.41

Boys who fought with the FAA have received even less attention than those who fought for UNITA, in part because of their smaller numbers. In addition, the release of child soldiers since the end of the war from Luanda to provincial government authorities and ultimately their home communities is largely unknown to the general population. Some boy soldiers initially recruited may have died in the fighting; many more may now be adults. While girls were also sexually abused by FAA soldiers and obliged to provide occasional services to them, Human Rights Watch was unable to document the use of girls as soldiers in the FAA.42

According to a United Nations employee, as of November 2002 the government and U.N. agencies had identified some 190 underage FAA soldiers in Luanda to be demobilized and had been successful in relocating about seventy of them. While access and cooperation with military leaders in the capital was commendable, no work had yet been done in the provinces to ensure that no children were left with government forces.43 A priest working outside the capital expressed concern that while attention to child combatants of UNITA was important, large numbers of boys had also fought with the FAA and their whereabouts were unknown. Another priest working in the central provinces stated that underage boys were still working with the FAA, living in barracks, and assisting the soldiers. 44 A journalist in July 2002 interviewed a fourteen-year-old child soldier of the FAA in Kwanza Sul province. Assigned to a military position outside of Gabela and in full military uniform, the boy feared answering detailed questions about his specific work duties.45

Felipe A., released from the FAA in late 2002, shared his story with us:

I was fifteen when rounded up by the FAA. I had already fled from my home area and was living with a family outside of Andulo. I was taken to a training center of the military by truck. There I was trained with 180 other children. Children who were given arms training with me were between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, but I later worked with some kids as young as ten.

We were trained in shooting automatic weapons, like AK-47s, and shown how to use grenades. Some kids also got training in the use of missiles and anti-tank weapons. We also received some technical training on automobile repair, mechanics, and arms cleaning and repairs.

During the war, I worked primarily as a mechanic, doing repairs on arms and assisting the soldiers. I never saw any girls working with the FAA, only boys. I was well treated by the military and given food, mostly rice and beans. I carried weapons and used them in the fighting sometimes. During a battle in Moxico, I was wounded, receiving a bullet on the left side of my temple. I was healed in a military hospital where I spent one month last year. 46

This seventeen-year-old orphan is now living with a family in his home area. Wearing tattered clothing and visibly underweight, he was nervous and shaking throughout the interview. While he has received some support from his community, the lack of government supported programs for children like Felipe and the hundreds of others who fought means they continue to face an uncertain future. While the government of Angola is to be commended for releasing children from their ranks and should be encouraged to continue the practice, the lack of assistance programs and recognition of their status as former combatants is a disservice to the many who risked their lives for the country. It is also a violation of Angola's obligation to provide for their recovery and reintegration.

11 Graça Machel, Statement to the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, November 8, 1996.

12 Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Global Report on Child Soldiers 2001, June 12, 2001; see also The World Bank, Technical Annex for a Proposed Grant of SDR 24 Million (US$ 33 Million Equivalent) to the Republic of Angola for an Angola Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project, (Document of the World Bank: Report No. T7580-ANG, March 7, 2003), p. 31.

13 Cape Town Principles and Best Practice on the Prevention of Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa, Cape Town, South Africa, April 30, 1997 [online], (retrieved March 5, 2003).

14 Human Rights Watch, Angola Unravels, p. 52; Médecins sans Frontières, Sacrifice, p. 11.

15 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

16 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

17 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

18 Human Rights Watch interviews, December 3 and 4, 2002; see also Pearce, Justin, "No-One Fighting for Angola's Child Soldiers," BBC News UK Edition, November 19, 2002.

19 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002. In several interviews, children used the term disappear instead of death. This appears linked to the belief held in many parts of Angola that life does not end at death, but that the spirit passes on and plays an important role in the life of the living, providing protection, counsel, and assuring communal harmony. Thus, the physical body disappears but the spirit lives on. See Christian Children's Fund, Let Us Light, pp. 19-24.

20 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

21 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

22 Human Rights Watch interview, December 4, 2002; see also Human Rights Watch, Angola Unravels, p. 52, CCF, Let Us Light, pp. 38-44, U.S. Department of State, Angola Country Reports on Human Rights Practice (Washington D.C.: The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2000, 2001), section 1F.

23 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

24 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002

25 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

26 Human Rights Watch interview, Luanda, November 26, 2002.

27 Human Rights Watch interview, Luanda, November 26, 2002.

28 Human Rights Watch interview, Luanda, November 20, 2002.

29 Human Rights Watch interview, Luanda, November 25, 2002.

30 Human Rights Watch interview, December 4, 2002.

31 See Human Rights Watch, Angola Unravels, p. 52.

32 See Médecins sans Frontières, Angola Sacrifice of a People, p. 11.

33 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

34 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

35 Human Rights Watch interview, December 3, 2002.

36 Human Rights Watch interviews, Luanda, November 19 and 20, 2002.

37 Human Rights Watch interview, December 5, 2002, see Refugees International, Women's Access to Demobilization and Reintegration Program Funding Essential, March 7, 2003.

38 Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, The Use of Children as Soldiers in Africa: A Country Analysis, 1999.

39 Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Child Soldiers 1379 Report, 2002, Pages 17-20.

40 Dagens Nyheter, September 9, 2000 - from Red Barnet, [online], (retrieved January 17, 2003).

41 Human Rights Watch interview, November 28, 2002.

42 Human Rights Watch interviews, November 28 and December 2, 2002, see Médecins sans Frontières, Angola Sacrifice, pp. 11-12.

43 Human Rights Watch interview, Luanda, November 26, 2002.

44 Human Rights Watch interviews, November 28 and December 2, 2002.

45 Human Rights Watch interview, Luanda, November 20, 2002.

46 Human Rights Watch interview, November 28, 2002.

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