Girls and Small Arms in Sierra Leone: Victimization, Participation, and Resistance


Denov, Myriam, and Richard Maclure. 2005. “Girls and Small Arms in Sierra Leone: Victimization, Participation, and Resistance.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, Honolulu, March 5.

Authors: Myriam Denov, Richard Maclure


Despite the protections provided to children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the issue of child soldiers has become a major global concern. More than 300,000 soldiers under the age of 18 are fighting in conflicts in 41 countries around the world. During Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, close to 20,000 children were actively engaged as participants in armed struggle. While there is ample descriptive evidence of the conditions and factors underlying the rise of child soldiery in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in the developing world, most of the literature has portrayed this as a uniquely male phenomenon. Yet in Sierra Leone an estimated 30 percent of child soldiers in oppositional forces were girls. So far, however, there is little empirical information that distinguishes the experiences of these girls from those of boys. In particular, very little is known about the forces that propelled girls into armed conflict, about their experiences and perceptions of war, or about their unique psycho-social needs. Likewise, while demobilization and reintegration have been recognized as essential to sustainable peace-building in Sierra Leone, there are clear risks that implementation of such programmes will proceed according to conditionalities that fail to acknowledge gender distinctions and the ideal of 'empowering' female and male youth. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 32 Sierra Leonean girls formerly in fighting forces, this paper traces girls' perspectives and experiences with small arms and the implications of their involvement in armed conflict. It highlights the multi-faceted world that girls were forced to contend with - one in which the realities of victimization, perpetration, and resistance were experienced in a shifting and dialectical fashion.

Topics: Age, Youth, Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Combatants, Child Soldiers, Female Combatants, DDR, Gender, Girls, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Peacebuilding, Weapons /Arms Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2005

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