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Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Sierra Leone

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Sierra Leone, 2001, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 4,717,000
    – under-18s: 2,370,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 3,000-4,000
    – paramilitary (Civil Defense Forces): strength unknown
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: previously any age with consent; unknown if recent government commitments to an age limit of 18 has resulted in legislative change
  • Voting age for government elections: 21
  • Numbers of child recruits/soldiers: indicated – 5,000-10,000 in government and opposition armed groups
  • CRC-OP-AC: signed on 8 September 2000; supports "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; ICC; GC/API+II
  • Some 5000 child combatants serve among government and opposition forces, and a further 5,000 are estimated to have been recruited for labour among armed groups.1661 Armed groups typically rely on forced recruitment through abduction and drug use, and are responsible for particularly cruel and degrading treatment of children in their camps, often including the sexual slavery of girls. The Lomè peace agreement of July 1999 included important provisions on the demobilisation of child soldiers, however the resumption of fighting in May 2000 significantly slowed progress. To date slightly more than 1,800 children are reported to have entered disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes. Underage recruitment, including the re-enlistment of some of those previously demobilised, has continued among all forces.


Since 1991 Sierra Leone has been in the grips of internal armed conflict between government forces and international peacekeepers, and armed groups including the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Thousands of men, women and children have been killed, raped, wounded or systematically mutilated. The Lomè peace agreement of July 1999 included important provisions on the demobilisation of child soldiers. Just over 24,000 combatants, including 1,700 children, were disarmed before the peace process collapsed in May 2000.1662 Renewed insecurity resulted in further abuses against civilians and massive displacement. A 30 day ceasefire signed in November 2000 held throughout the early months of 2001, however the RUF did not disarm and violence towards civilians, including returning refugees, continued. The RUF still controls large sections of the diamond-rich north and east of Sierra Leone.

Fighting in Sierra Leone has also affected neighbouring Guinea, where some 340,000 Sierra Leonean refugees reside. Since September 2000 rebel fighters have launched a series of cross-border attacks prompting military counter-attacks by Guinean forces.1663 The deployment of an ECOWAS border monitoring force, agreed upon in January 2001, has been delayed for months pending a status of forces agreement between Guinea and Liberia and approval by the UN Security Council.1664

Liberia is also involved in the conflict in Sierra Leone, having actively supported the RUF since its inception in 1991 through arms and diamond trafficking. Liberia announced its intention to sever ties with the RUF following UN Security Council action in March 2001.1665


National Recruitment Legislation

The Sierra Leone government has made repeated commitments to raise the legal age of military recruitment to 18, demobilise all underage combatants, and fulfil its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

There is no conscription in Sierra Leone.1666 In February 2000 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued concluding observations on Sierra Leone's initial report, expressing concern over the continued failure to define minimum voluntary recruitment age in national legislation. Rather, Section 16(2) of the Royal Sierra Leone Military Forces Act 1961 states that volunteers under "the apparent age of 17½ years" may not be enlisted without the consent of parents or legal guardians. However the Committee welcomed the government's intention to pass legislation raising minimum recruitment age to 18, urging the government to move quickly in this direction and to ensure enforcement.1667

On 24 May 2000, following reports of children fighting with government-allied forces or remaining in front-line positions, the government issued the statement that "government policy ... stipulates that 18 years is the minimum age for bearing arms in Sierra Leone". The government further reported that the Acting Chief of Defence Staff was "instructed to ensure that all those below the age of 18 currently involved in fighting on the side of the government should be immediately withdrawn, demobilised and handed over to competent institutions for rehabilitation. Henceforth, any commander who allows a child below 18-years to carry arms within his area of operations or allows children to remain in areas of active conflict will face severe disciplinary action."1668 At the International Conference on War-Affected Children in Winnipeg in September 2000 the government stated its commitment to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding "voluntary recruitment into any fighting force before age 18".1669 However, it is unclear whether this commitment has resulted in appropriate legislative change.

Child Recruitment and Deployment

Government-allied forces comprise a loose alliance of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) and the Sierra Leone Army (SLA), including more recently former AFRC members retrained by British forces. Chain-of-command control for these forces is in practice weak. This is particularly true of the largest and most powerful membership of the CDF, the Kamajors, which are well known for recruiting children.

It is not clear how far measures to prevent underage recruitment and demobilise child soldiers have been implemented by the various government-allied forces. There is evidence that these forces continued to recruit and use children in combat in 2000 and currently, including some previously disarmed and demobilised child combatants.

  • New Sierra Leone Army (SLA)

After the Lomè Peace Accord the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) began restructuring its units and training with the aid of foreign forces; UK military personnel are currently training the new SLA. By January 2001 some 6,500 persons, all age 18 or over, had completed training (not all of these soldiers are yet on active duty). Members of the new SLA are also being trained in child protection by UNICEF in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence, child protection agencies and the Ministry of Social Welfare.

  • Civil Defense Forces (CDF)

Since the war began civilians began forming self-defence militias comprised of various groups of traditional hunters, in particular the kamajors. The government came to rely on these militias, which officially became known as the Civil Defence Forces. The CDF has been accused of serious human rights violations including extrajudicial killings and execution of suspected rebels and collaborators, arbitrary arrest and detention, and induction of child soldiers.1670 However in May 2000 the Deputy Minister of Defence and National Co-ordinator of the CDF, Samuel Hinga Norman, denied the CDF recruited children or "initiated" them into militias comprising the CDF. He claimed children among CDF forces had been rescued or captured from armed groups and transferred to child protection agencies. In mid-July 2000 he further instructed CDF leaders and "initiators" not to recruit children.

While these instructions may reduce the number of children newly admitted into the CDF, it does not resolve the problem of those already in CDF forces. A senior member of the CDF in Kenema, Eastern Province, informed Amnesty International in 2000 that, although he personally opposed the use of children, it was normal practice within the CDF.

CDF recruitment of children – including some previously demobilised – is reportedly continuing in Bo, Kemema and Moyamba Districts in Southern Province. According to some reports, villages in Southern Province are expected to provide a certain number of children to the CDF. In some areas there appears to be an attempt to conceal the use of children to guard checkpoints along major roads in Southern Province; aid workers repeatedly report seeing children, some of them openly armed, others concealing arms or hiding themselves in the bush.1672 In other areas an increase in the number of children guarding checkpoints has been observed. In May 2000 a UN assessment mission observed children between 7 and 14 years old comprising 25 to 30 per cent of the SLA/CDF in the town of Masiaka. Militia members claimed the children had volunteered as fighting spread through the villages.1673 The low rate of child demobilisation after May 2000 (see below) suggests that many underage recruits may remain among these government forces.

  • Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)

The AFRC was comprised primarily of former Sierra Leone Army (SLA) officers who organised a coup in 1997 and joined forces with the RUF. The AFRC forcibly recruited children and used them to fight against government forces before the signing of the Lomè Peace Accord. The AFRC was also known to abduct young girls for use as sex slaves.

After the Lomè Accord the AFRC, led by Johnny Paul Koroma, re-joined the government as a political party. Some of its members re-joined the new SLA being trained by British forces.1674 Hundreds of other AFRC members, however, refused to join the government, instead occupying areas outlying the capital or joining an opposition group known as the West Side Boys which are known to include under-18s (see below). On 24 May 2000 Koroma issued a statement voicing his opposition to the recruitment of children and warned "all warring factions to desist from recruiting child soldiers".1675


Currently the opposition group posing the greatest challenge to government forces is the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Opposition groups also include the West Side Boys, and before the Lomè Accord, the AFRC (see above).

Child Recruitment and Deployment

  • Revolutionary United Front (RUF)

In May 2000 a RUF spokesman SWB Rogers was quoted as saying: "The RUF doesn't believe in using children as soldiers. When they are five or six, they are far too young to fight. We only use the older boys, from ten or eleven upwards."1678 The RUF is well known for its abduction and forcible recruitment of children, both boys and girls, for use as soldiers, sexual slaves and forced labour. In 2000 reports also emerged of armed groups forcing children to work in diamond fields under their control since the signing of the Lomè Accord in 1999.1679

The RUF commonly abducts children during attacks. After the January 1999 Freetown attack, in which an estimated 10 per cent of armed forces were children, more than 4,800 children were reported missing.1680 Of these about 60 per cent were girls, who are typically forced into sexual slavery.1681

Since May 2000 RUF forces have continued to abduct and forcibly recruit children as combatants, often using drugs to induce their compliance and fighting ferocity. Others were reported to have volunteered to join the RUF, however it appears that in many cases these children had little option but to do so. From May through August 2000 reports from Kambia and Makeni Districts, Northern Province, described RUF forces going from village to village demanding a quota of men and boys, most of whom were forced to join under duress. Local traditional rulers, known as Paramount Chiefs, were ordered to provide a certain number of recruits and families were forced to hand over children, including those aged under 18. The RUF has also reportedly killed children who refused to join their forces and frequently extorted money from families of conscripted youths.

Recruits also include hundreds of those who were previously demobilised after the July 1999 peace agreement. Some 200 demobilised children were abducted on their way from Kabala to Freetown in January 2000.1682 In May re-recruitment increased with RUF commanders targeting interim care centres; at the Makeni rehabilitation centre for example, a group of 72 former child soldiers were forced to rejoin.1683 Some of the children were told by RUF forces that their families had been traced and that the RUF would help them return to their homes. It was also reported that the RUF threatened to kill everyone at the centre if the children did comply.1684

Recent interviews of children staying at transit centres set up in Bo and Kenema as part of the demobilisation programme in 2000 confirmed reports of sexual violence and abuse of children, both boys and girls, by RUF personnel. Three adolescent boys interviewed by an aid worker reported they had been abducted around age 14 and 15 and were sexually abused by female members of the RUF. They also reported being sexually abused by male RUF members, apparently as a form of punishment. Other forms of abuse included being forced to aid and abet the rape of girls. Rape of girls by RUF members was frequently cited.1685

  • West Side Boys

The West Side Boys are an ex-AFRC splinter group aligned with the RUF. Like the RUF they have committed serious human rights abuses including killing, abduction, deliberate mutilation, rape and the forced recruitment of children as soldiers.1688 In September 2000 British troops conducted raids on the West Side Boys, during which scores of child soldiers were seen fleeing into the jungle, likely to have rejoined armed groups.1689


In Sierra Leone it is often difficult to distinguish between recruitment into armed conflict versus the initiation process young boys undergo to mark entry as an adult into societies of traditional hunters. For example, some parents may not try to prevent the recruitment of their children by the CDF due to the traditional status associated with membership in groups such as the kamajors, which are an important element of the CDF.


International Standards

The government of Sierra Leone signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 8 September 2000 but does not uphold the "straight-18" position.


The problem of child soldiers in Sierra Leone has attracted significant international and national attention. In January 2000 hundreds of people marched in Freetown to protest the recruitment of children and to demand such children be reunited with their families.1690 Some 40 child protection agencies and NGOs working with government have been constituted into a child protection committee coordinated by UNICEF,1691 and the government of Sierra Leone committed itself to establishing a National Commission for War-Affected Children. In October 2000 the UN Security Council urged the government of Sierra Leone to establish the promised Commission.1692 The Coalition vigorously lobbied for the establishment of a special court in Sierra Leone to try those responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers (see below).


In 1999 little demobilisation appeared to be taking place. Following the Lomè peace agreement the RUF admitted that 30% of its forces were under 18 but that official demobilisation had not begun. Later that year a mere 111 children were said to have been demobilised. The CDF reported equally small numbers with approximately 100 children demobilising in October 1999.1693

In January 2000 the pace picked up considerably and by May the UN reported that approximately 1,700 of an estimated 5,000 underage recruits had entered disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes.1694 But renewal of hostilities that month derailed the process, and by November 2000 the total number of demobilised child soldiers had only risen to slightly over 1,800.1695 About 138 of these children, between the ages of 8 and 16, were handed over by the CDF in June 2000.1696 The UN Security Council reported in October 2000 that "a significant portion of the rank and file RUF would be willing to disarm but were not allowed to do so by their commanders, who often used brutal methods, including execution, to prevent fighters, including children, from leaving."1697

Some of the demobilisation since 1999 has come about through self-disarmament, which established programmes were not always equipped to address. But in 2000 efforts were being made to establish reporting and outreach mechanisms that would facilitate the inclusion of such former combatants in disarmament and reintegration programmes.1698 A National Commission of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration is expected to be established in 2001.1699

A particular challenge for reintegration programmes concerns child rape victims forced to live among the RUF. The taboo nature of the subject, the social ostracisation that often follows abuse, and the lack of appropriate government services all present significant obstacles to dealing with such victims of armed conflict. In March 2001 UNAMSIL announced the launch of a skills training project for about 390 young girls who had been abducted by armed groups as a step toward addressing the needs of such children.1700

Special Court

In August 2000 the UN Security Council set in train the establishment of a special court to try war crimes in Sierra Leone, recommending that this court prosecute those with greatest responsibility for crimes. The Security Council agreed that all recruitment and use of child soldiers be considered a war crime under the Special Court in accordance with statute of the International Criminal Court.1701 Following considerable debate about whether 15-18-year-olds should also be eligible for trial, as initially proposed by the UN Secretary General, the Security Council later reiterated that the Special Court should target only those most responsible for war crimes, and recommended that juveniles appear before a separate Truth and Reconciliation Commission.1702

1661 AI, "Sierra Leone Childhood – a casualty in conflict", 31/08/00.

1662 UN Security Council, Fourth report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, S/2000/455, 19/05/00.

1663 HRW, "Guinean Forces Kill, Wound Civilians in Sierra Leone", HRW, New York.

1664 UN IRIN, "ECOMOG capable of defending border, ECOWAS head says", 24 January 2001.

1665 UNWIRE, "Liberia: Council imposes sanctions, calls for end to RUF support", 8 March 2001. Between $25 and $125 million in diamonds are smuggled out of Sierra Leone through Liberia each year.

1666 Report of the secretary-general submitted pursuant to commission resolution 1998/77, "Civil and political rights, including the question of: conscientious objection to military service", UN Doc. E/CN.4/2000/55, 17/12/99.

1667 Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Sierra Leone. CRC/C/15/Add.116 24 February 2000.

1668 AI, "Sierra Leone: Childhood – a casualty of conflict", 31/0800, at:

1669 Statement by the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Shirley Gbujama, at the International Conference on War-Affected Children, Winnipeg, Canada September 2000.

1670 US Department of State, Sierra Leone Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999 and 2000. Washington D.C., 2000 and 2001.

1671 AI, "War children tell their story", Amnesty Magazine November/December 2000, pp.7.

1672 Information provided to the Coalition by aid workers, April 2001.

1673 IRIN, "Sierra Leone: Re-recruitment of child soldiers", 23 May 2000.

1674 US Department of State, Sierra Leone Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2000. Washington D.C., 2001.

1675 AI, "Sierra Leone: Childhood – a casualty of conflict", 31/0800, at:

1676 AI, "War children tell their story", Amnesty Magazine November/December 2000, pp.7.

1677 AI Press Release, "Sierra Leone: action needed to end use of child combatants", (AFR 51/075/2000), 31 August 2000.

1678 Africa Confidential, 26 May 2000. See Radda Barnen Children and War Newsletter, July 2000.

1679 US Department of State, Sierra Leone Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2000. Washington D.C., 2001.

1680 UNICEF, Child soldier projects: Assistance to Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone, at

1681 AI, "Sierra Leone: rape and other forms of sexual violence against girls and women", AFR 51/035/2000, 29 June 2000.

1682 Reuters, "Rebels said to kidnap 200 children in Sierra Leone., 21 January 2000.

1683 Reuters, "UNICEF says children rejoined Sierra Leone rebels", 30 May 2000.

1684 IRIN, "Sierra Leone: re-recruitment of child soldiers", 23 May 2000.

1685 Coalition interview of a reliable source that requests confidentiality, Geneva 22 February 2001.

1686 AI, "War children tell their story", Amnesty Magazine November/December 2000, pp.6.

1687 Ibid.

1688 US Department of State, op. cit.

1689 BBC World news, "Sierra Leone: Child soldiers scatter into jungle after hostage release", 14 September 2000.

1690 IRIN, "Sierra Leone: march against recruitment of child soldiers", 22 March 2000.

1691 Statement by the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Shirley Gbujama, at the International Conference on War-Affected Children, Winnipeg, Canada September 2000.

1692 Report of the UN Security Council mission to Sierra Leone, S/2000/992, 16 October 2000.

1693 HRW, World Report 2000, HRW, New York, 2000.

1694 Fourth report of Secretary General on UN Mission in Sierra Leone, 19 may 2000, S/2000/455.

1695 Save the Children UK, Emergency Update, November 2000.

1696 IRIN, "Sierra Leone: Kamajors hand over ex-child fighters", 13 June 2000.

1697 Report of the UN Security Council mission to Sierra Leone, S/2000/992, 16 October 2000, para. 22.

1698 IRIN, "Sierra Leone: reintegration of child combatants", 14, July 2000.].

1699 Report of the Special Representative of the secretary-general for Children and Armed Conflict to the UN General Assembly, Protection of children affected by armed conflict, A/55/442, 3 October 2000.

1700 UN Press Release, "UN Mission in Sierra Leone sets up skills training for girl victims of war", 12 March 2001.

1701 UN Security Council issued a Resolution, S/RES/1315(2000), adopted 14 august 2000. At:

1702 UN News, "Security Council Says Sierra Leone War Crimes Court Should Target Top Leaders Only" 28 December 2000. At:

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