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

  • Population:
    – total: 2,930,000
    – under-18s: 1,515,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active (including allied militias): 11,000-15,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government and opposition forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II
  • The UN has estimated that up to 20,000 children, some as young as six years old, were among both government and opposition forces during Liberia's seven-year civil war. In 1999 the Liberian government stated its commitment to an age of limit of 18 for participation in armed conflict, but the Armed Forces of Liberia have continued to recruit minors, including children from Sierra Leone. Demobilisation programmes have been slow and problematic, with only 4,300 child soldiers demobilised and 89% of the total number awaiting demobilisation disappearing before the process was complete in 1997. Many are thought to have returned to armed groups in renewed fighting.


Between 1989 and 1995 a brutal civil war claimed more than 200,000 lives, produced more than 700,000 refugees and displaced an estimated 1.4 million people in Liberia. A peace accord was signed in August 1995, but there have been at least five serious outbreaks of fighting since government elections in 1997. Opposition groups, the United Movement for Democracy in Liberia-Johnson (ULIMO-J) and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) have launched attacks often from Guinea. In September 1999 Guinea accused Liberian government forces of attacking border villages on its territory, and in September 2000 Liberian forces launched a major offensive against rebels in the North, leading to a deterioration of relations between the two countries.1113

Liberia also supports the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone. In March 2001, the UN Security Council adopted sanctions to halt arms and diamond trafficking as well as military training or assistance between Liberia and Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF). A committee was created to monitor implementation of these sanctions.1114


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Liberia's Constitution, Article 19 on military law, makes no mention of conscription, which in theory does not exist. Minimum age for voluntary recruitment is believed to be 18 but this is not enforced in practice.

Military Training and Military Schools

Liberia has army-run elementary and high schools located within army barracks for children of military personnel. Efforts have also begun to revitalise a pre-war government-run officer training corps programme which was compulsory for all high school and university students. Training included instruction in military discipline and science but was described as being of 'mild' intensity. The International Committee of the Red Cross is currently training instructors for this programme, all of whom are military personnel. UNICEF and the UNHCR are also preparing materials on human rights to be incorporated in the programme.1115

Child Recruitment and Deployment

In 1999 Liberian authorities denied recruitment or abuse of children by the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).1116 However, authorities did acknowledge that recruitment of children remained a concern within the context of current instability in the country.1117

It is well known that all factions recruited large numbers of children in the past. There are no precise figures but it is believed that the current armed forces are primarily composed of former National Patriotic Front of Liberia's (NPFL) fighters – an opposition group previously headed by the current President of Liberia during the civil war – which included a large proportion of children. It is believed that children, who continue to be recruited into the AFL, are often treated more cruelly than adult soldiers both in times of war and in times of peace.1118 Liberian forces have also been accused of abducting, brutalising and then providing basic infantry training to children from eastern Sierra Leone who subsequently serve in the RUF.1119


Child Recruitment and Deployment

Many former opposition group members, including children, voluntarily joined the NPFL after surviving AFL attacks that involved indiscriminate burning, looting, raping and killing of civilians.1122 Many young girls who sought protection from the NPLF became what they call 'wartime women' – the unwilling 'girlfriends; or 'wives' of fighters.1123 Boy soldiers were placed in special Small Boys Units where they were taught to kill without question and thus were particularly feared by civilians.1124 Many were forcibly recruited and forced to rape, torture or kill fellow villagers or even relatives in order to instil loyalty.1125 Many became drug addicts, particularly marijuana, amphetamines, and a mixture of cane juice and gunpowder.1126

According to disarmament/demobilisation data collected by UNICEF in 1996-97, 18 per cent of the NPLF soldiers were children. 69 per cent of those aged 17 and under were between 15 and 17 years of age and had served an average of four years. 27 per cent of the remaining fighters under 17 were between the ages of 12 and 14.1127 About 1 per cent of demobilised child soldiers were girls or young women, but this figure does not include the many 'wartime women'.1128

Current armed groups also include the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), the United Front of Liberia for Democracy under Johnson (ULIMO-J) and under Alhaji Kroma (ULIMO-K). It is not known how many children are among these forces, however former child soldiers are known to be particularly targeted for recruitment, often in return for food for themselves and their families.1129


Government Commitments

In April 1999 the representative of the government of Liberia at the African Conference on the Use of Child Soldiers stated the country's commitment to an age limit of 18 for participation in armed conflict as well as its support for the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.1130 Liberia has not to date signed the CRC-OP-CAC.


According to UNICEF about 4,306 demobilised combatants were child soldiers, but some 89 per cent of the total number of children in camps left before demobilisation could be completed. Many demobilised children were reunited with their families. Others were referred to three of five transit homes supported by UNICEF until families could be traced.1131 UNICEF and NGOs also opened educational rehabilitation centres which in 2000 were still operating for a limited number of former child soldiers. These children, often having no means of support, remained vulnerable to re-recruitment in current conflicts. Many youths remain traumatised and some are still addicted to drugs. The number of street children in Monrovia and the number of abandoned infants, which increased significantly following disarmament, also remains high.1132

In March 2000 the UN Security Council noted that disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes in Liberia had inadvertently excluded some children, particularly girls, by making the surrender of weapons the criterion for eligibility in the programmes.1133

1113 AI Report 2000; HRW Report 2001.

1114 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.

1115 Ibid.

1116 Statement by A. von Williamson at the African Conference on the Use of Child Soldiers, Maputo, Mozambique, 19 to 22 April 1999.

1117 Report of the African Conference on the Use of Child Soldiers, op. cit.

1118 Information provided by UNICEF; see CSC African Report, (amended case studies) 1999.

1119 RB Children of War Newsletter, No. 2/00, "Children trained in Liberia and Burkina Faso. 7/00.

1120 Beauchemin, E., "Child soldiers in Liberia", Radio Netherlands.

1121 Beauchemin, E., "Child soldiers in Liberia", Radio Netherlands.

1122 G.I.Joey, Children and Conflict: A study of child soldiers. At: (5/8/98).

1123 Beauchemin, E., "Child soldiers in Liberia", Radio Netherlands,

1124 HRW, Africa, Easy prey: child soldiers in Liberia, 94; See Stephan Eliis, the mask of anarchy, Hurst & Co., London 1999.

1125 Beauchemin, E., op. cit.

1126 G.I. Joey, op. cit.

1127 McKenna, M., "The reintegration of child soldiers in Liberia", UNICEF USA News, 11/98.

1128 Beauchemin, E., op. cit.

1129 Save the Children, UK emergency update: Liberia, 11/00.

1130 Report of the African Conference on the Use of Child Soldiers, Maputo, Mozambique, 19 to 22 April 1999.

1131 UNICEF Liberia. Demobilisation and reintegration of former child soldiers and other war affected youth, 10/98.

1132 US State Department Human Rights Report 2000.

1133 UN Security Council, Press Release SC/6830, 23/3/00.


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