Child soldiers have been used prominently throughout third world countries in past centuries because of their easy manipulation, vulnerability, and obedience. In the twenty-first century, their exploitation and abuse has widely increased according to reports from major NGO’s and the United Nations. In Liberia, where conflict has risen steadily since 1980, the abduction and use of children as forced soldiers has increased from an estimated 21,000 children, 5,000 of which were girls, to 8,500 girls after 2003. Reintegration is an important part of transition in a post-conflict society and the reintegration of children is especially imperative because of the psychological, emotional, mental, and physical damage that is caused during their most vulnerable developmental stages, taking away from proper growth and maturity into adulthood, thus contributing to a potentially negative future for a transitional society.
Many NGO’s such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have begun forming reintegration programs for child soldiers in Liberia roughly since 1994 wherein the children receive counseling, basic educational instruction for reading, writing, math that they were denied because of the war and/or their involvement as a child soldier. They are taught trade skills in order to help stabilize them with an occupational ability. One main focus of the HRW reintegration programs is also to reunite the child soldiers with their families. When the term ‘child soldiers’ is used however, the international community conjures the idea of only boy soldiers; girl soldiers are often forgotten or unacknowledged to begin with.
Female child soldiers have been seriously overlooked in this delicate and devastatingly important task with only 2% reported in any reintegration program in Liberia. Often these young girls, who suffered just as much, if not much more, sexual, physical, and mental exploitation than the boy soldiers, have received less attention because of societal views of gender. Girls are not to be considered as equal as the boys and thus are less important. Instead of working to help them heal from sexual exploitation while enlisted in armed forces, they are often referred to as ‘whores’ and rejected from their community.
As in many societies, the females fall victim to sexism as they are stigmatized as having brought upon their own fate. There is a brooding lack of international recognition of this problem that simply allows the gender roles to remain as they are without any interference or possible alternatives to helping these girls. While overlooking female child soldiers in their reintegration and rehabilitation is an issue that need be dealt with, careful concern must be taken to work with the current societal views and governances in helping to form a better future instead of trying to impose a Westernized and perhaps more ‘modern’ view of feminization.