A Danish academic has alleged in a recent documentary that the government of Sierra Leone assisted private security firms from the UK to recruit former child soldiers, who were then deployed as guards in Iraq from 2009.
Sierra Leone fought a bloody civil war for 11 years that saw thousands of children recruited as soldiers. The war ended in 2002. 50,000 people were killed, and thousands more were injured and mutilated.
Danish Institute Against Torture researcher Maya Mynster Christensen claims that from 2009, the Sierra Leone Government was looking for avenues to keep its workforce occupied. Sending former child soldiers to Iraq appeared like a good move as it would keep them busy and out of trouble.
Christensen states that the Government of Sierra Leone did pay the men the money they earned while deployed in Iraq upon their return. However, she claims that this policy of allowing private security contractors from the UK to recruit child soldiers was contrary to the country’s policy of demobilising the militia after the end of the civil war.
UNICEF states that by the beginning of 2002, around 72,500 soldiers were demobilised. Out of these, nearly 10% were children. Christensen states that the British security contractors working for US security companies recruited nearly 10,000 former civil war combatants from 2009 onwards. About 3,000 of these militia fighters were put on guard duty to protect the US military assets and bases in Iraq.
Aegis Defence Services is one of the security contractors that Christensen has accused of recruiting men in 2012. The contractor has already acknowledged it recruited soldiers and militia fighters from Sierra Leone between 2005 and 2015 to reduce the cost for the US while it was in Iraq.
Christensen’s claims and Aegis’ acknowledgement have left child rights group horrified and alarmed. The fact that a private military contractor did not consider the risk and harm of re-exposing child combatants to conflict is extremely worrying.