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When children are forced to kill


Child soldiers in Liberia As one project to commemorate the anniversary of St Francis Xavier, the JRS is sponsoring the making of a film about former child soldiers in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Liam Greene explains the project.


To celebrate this centenary year of Saint Francis Xavier, who ‘went to the ends of the earth,’ the Irish Province, among its other celebrations, is sponsoring the making of a film documentary this Christmas, in little-known Liberia, West Africa. The purpose of the film is to raise our awareness, and especially that of our young people, of the awful situation of the ex-child soldiers there.

These are the children kidnapped by opposing armies throughout the country, forced to take part in killings, and thrown by the wayside when they were growing too old to obey blindly anymore. There are about 15,000 of them, many traumatised, with nowhere to go, no family to go to, hanging about the streets, in an area difficult to live in because of its total lack of services.

When Charles Taylor seized power in 1989, with a few hundred soldiers, over half a million people fled from their homes and from the child-soldiers. The old and the young were killed, and the child-soldiers were forced to be the killers. After the October general elections an unsettled peace has come to the country, though scars of civil war remain. From the pictures here taken on election day we can get some idea of the aftermath of conflict in that country.

The Jesuit Refugee Service in Liberia, with Regional Director Father Mateo Aguirre and Country Director Father Alberto Plaza, is engaged in the work of accompanying and serving refugees, of organising housing and educational projects, working with many traumatised youths and helping them return to the places from which they were displaced. This is in fulfillment of the Mandate of the United Nations on the Declarations of the Rights of The Child, which sets out ‘to promote the physical and psychology recovery and social integration of the child victim of any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse, torture or any other form of degrading treatment, or armed conflicts…’ Being forced to commit widespread atrocities covers all of these.

The documentary, which will be made this Christmas, will look at part of that work. We will speak to the Irish members of the United Nations peace-keeping force there and hear what it is like for them living in Monrovia, the capital, today, with the ex-child soldiers they care for. There will be interviews with the local people. The focus of the work is a series of interviews with some of the youths in which we hope to touch on the value each one places on life now, and whether they feel remorse for the past.

We will look at one JRS member, Eduardo Bofill, and at his work with the ex-child soldiers. We will observe how he relates to those youths, and they to him, and how he uses simple things like football as one of the means of attracting the teenagers who are hanging around the streets. When he was living here in Dublin, learning English to go to Liberia, those who were to become the crew all knew him. Eduardo’s project is only one of the various projects being carried out for those traumatised youths in that country.

The Irish Army with the United Nations Peace-Keeping forces in Monrovia at present have generously offerred to accommodate and look after the safety of the film crew. The documentary will be made available to schools in Ireland.