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120,000 Girls Believed to be Child Soldiers

By Joe De Capua

Voice of America

25 April 2005

A new report says of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers around the world, about 40 percent of them are girls. Save the Children says the girls are often front line fighters or used as porters or cooks.  And many are sexually abused.

Charly Cox works for Save the Children and has met many former girl soldiers in West Africa.  From London, she spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the problems they face.

She says, “I was in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are thankfully post-conflict now. But I did meet girls who had been involved with the armed forces there. Girls who had been abducted at gunpoint from their villages in the early hours of the morning and who were forced to be so-called wives of the commanders, who abducted them. Their stories were widespread and not unusual. And I think I was really shocked by the age at which that could happen to girls. I met girls who had been abducted at the age of eight and had been forced to be wives for several years.”

While the girls she met did not take part in actual combat, some of them were forced to carry heavy munitions.  She calls the “the backbone” of the army, being forced to cook and clean.

As for being ‘wives,’ Ms. Cox says, “We would probably use terms like sexual possession or sexual slave. But essentially girls were being abducted and forced to become the sexual partners of one or multiple men.” 

The Save the Children report says improvements need to be made in DDR, which stands for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration.  It says often the post-conflict programs do not address the needs of girls and concentrate more on the number of weapons turned in.

Save the Children has programs that reintegrate the former child soldiers with children in their villages to help them remember what its like to be a child. It says this also helps them to be accepted by their families, who often view them as unclean. The aid organization is calling on the international community to do more to help the girls.

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