Title: Conflicted Childhoods: Fighting Over Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone
Name: Susan Abbey Shepler
Assistant Professor
International Peace and Conflict Resolution School of International Service
American University
4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington DC 20016
Year: 2003
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: This dissertation examines how Sierra Leoneans make strategic use of the flood of international resources--both material and discursive--that have been directed to the problem of reintegration of child soldiers starting in the mid-1990s. The work is based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Sierra Leone in Interim Care Centers for former child soldiers, in schools struggling to integrate children whose education has been disrupted by war, in non-formal apprenticeship programs, and in selected communities where former child soldiers have been reunified with their families. The decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone was complex, with different meanings for participants depending on class, ethnic group, gender, and geographical location. This work traces the variable experiences of the war in five distinct field sites within Sierra Leone, each with its own trajectory and timeline. It contrasts the Sierra Leonean model of childhood--described with reference to four key practices: child labor, fosterage, apprenticeship education, and secret society initiation, with the Western model of childhood that underpins the NGO practices designed to help former child soldiers reintegrate into society. "Child Soldier" as a category is co-created by Sierra Leoneans and Westerners in social practice. By adopting the Western identity of innocent youth, children in Sierra Leone are moving from a blunt kind of power, to a power legitimated through international structures. The techniques behind the creation of "child soldier" as a post-war identity have unexpected political effects. Struggles over childhood and child rights in post war Sierra Leone are productive sites in that they become the locus for all kinds of other political struggles. In particular, the work compares the experiences of formal and informal reintegrators, boy soldiers and girl soldiers, and children affiliated with the (RUF) rebels and the (CDF) local militias. This dissertation shows that in some ways Western interventions designed to ease the reintegration of former child soldiers in fact make that reintegration more difficult. The practical conclusion is that programs for former child soldiers should work within local understandings of child protection, for example through child fosterage and apprenticeship, rather than through excessive institutionalization and reliance on Western models.
Bibliography: Shepler, Susan. "The Rites of the Child: Global Discourses of Youth and Reintegrating Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone." Journal of Human Rights 4.2 (2005): 197-211.

Shepler, Susan. "The Social and Cultural Context of Child Soldiering in Sierra Leone." Techniques of Violence in Civil War, workshop sponsored by the Centre for Studies of Civil War at the International Peace Research Institute. Oslo, Norway, 2004.

Shepler, Susan. "Continuity and Change in Intergenerational Relations and Conflict in Sierra Leone, from the Pre-Colonial Era to the Present." The Powerful Presence of the Past: Historical Dimensions of Integration and Conflict in the Upper Guinea Coast. Eds. Jacqueline Kn�rr and Wilson Trajano Filho. Halle, Germany: Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, forthcoming.