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Current Status of Child Soldiers

Many of the children who fought with the armed forces in and around Monrovia have been released or they themselves have simply abandoned their groups. Some have returned to their families; many more are languishing on the streets in the capital and other towns or in internally displaced camps. Children who spoke with Human Rights Watch investigators are waiting for demobilization programs to begin and eventual relocation to their families and communities. Some have received limited humanitarian assistance in the camps, but the majority are not currently assisted.

Other children are still involved with the fighting forces despite a commitment in the Ghana Peace Agreement to release all abductees.76 Displaced persons from Bong County described child soldiers with government militias based in Sanyoie continuing to loot and steal from the local population. Underage fighters still make up the rank and file of MODEL in counties under their control and were involved in active combat during an offensive in Nimba County in November 2003. In a visit to Tubmanburg in October, boys with the LURD were visibly manning checkpoints on the road between Monrovia and Bomi. One young guard told researchers he was eleven years old and had been with LURD for two years.77

A demobilization program, which includes provisions for child soldiers, began on December 8 but was soon postponed until January 20 due to the overwhelming numbers of fighters who presented themselves for the program, lack of advance information on the benefits included and a general un-preparedness by U.N. officials. The successful demobilization of all forces is contingent on countrywide deployment of U.N. peacekeepers. At the time of writing, their numbers reached just under 7,000 of an intended size of 15,000 peacekeepers and their geographic scope was just beginning to expand beyond the greater Monrovia area. The continued abuse of children in the fighting forces underscores the urgency of U.N. deployment; children will continue to suffer from violations described above until the peacekeepers reach all areas of the country and demobilization can begin.

The continued delay in programs also heightens the risk that some children will be recruited to fight in neighboring countries. A former child soldier living in a displaced persons camp had already been approached by his commander to go to another West African country to continue fighting. Although he refused, he stressed that with limited options available to him, such an offer was tempting.78 Similarly, in Buchanan, some MODEL fighters may have already been sent back to Côte d’Ivoire to assist in that conflict and there is concern that as the war dies down in Liberia, children will fight in other West Africa states.79

76 See “Peace Agreement Between the Government of Liberia (GOL), The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and the Political Parties”, Accra, Ghana, August 18, 2003, Article IX, Release of Prisoners and Abductees.

77 Human Rights Watch interview, Bomi County, October 30, 2003.

78 Human Rights Watch interview, Montserrado County, November 8, 2003.

79 Human Rights Watch interviews, Buchanan, November 3 & 4, 2003.

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February 2004