Girl Soldiers and Armed Conflict in Africa
Shah-Davis, S. and Quenivet, N. (2008) Girl Soldiers and Armed Conflict in Africa. In: Becker, M. and Schneider, J., eds. (2008) Human Rights Issues in the 21st Century. Nova. ISBN 9781604561197
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Africa is at the epicentre of the child soldier phenomenon. Armed groups and forces using children cover the continent. In fact, children have been drawn into (whether through forced measures or ‘voluntarily’) nearly every one of its myriad wars. However, whilst the endemic link between children (and boys in particular) and armed conflict in Africa is generally becoming increasingly well documented, the specific correlation between girls and warfare in Africa remains under-researched and less well documented. Consequently this chapter focuses on “girl soldiers” and armed conflict in Africa. It is contended that girls, in their status firstly as females, and secondly as children, are markedly disadvantaged and discriminated against from a social and cultural point of view even in peacetime. Therefore arguably, they are in an even more vulnerable and susceptible position during conflict. The first part of this chapter explores how girls in Africa become part of an armed conflict. Research denotes that whilst the majority are either abducted or forcibly recruited, some girls ‘willingly’ join armed groups to obtain things–inter alia protection, education and training, a sense of belonging/purpose, money, power–denied to them in civilian life. This in turn depicts that such girls are not passive victims but active agents with a strong sense of agency and ability to exercise choice. The second part of this chapter examines the experiences of the girls once they are part (whether forcibly or ‘voluntarily’) of the armed group/force. Within the group, girls suffer from grave violations and abuses that have lasting mental, emotional, and physical repercussions. One such violation is sexual violence, (which also forms the focus of this section) as although not universal, it is a daily fare inside most armed groups in Africa and is even experienced by girls who joined without obvious coercion. In the second part, the roles girls perform within armed groups are also analysed as they too have an important bearing on the experiences encountered. Research indicates that within an armed group, girls perform a wide variety of roles–roles that do not necessarily conform to simplistic gender stereotypes. Therefore some “girl soldiers” are fighters and take a direct part in hostilities, whereas others serve in a more supportive role such as cooks, porters, domestic labourers, spies, etc. However, it is important to note that the majority of the girls’ roles are fluid, multiple, and overlapping. Finally, in both parts of this chapter, the relevant international law (human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law in particular) pertaining to the issues is also considered. Fundamentally, international law makes it clear that the rights and dignity of girls must be protected at all times. However, such protection may recede when girls, exercising their agency, willingly participate in hostilities.
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