WMU News

Young boys forced to fight in Liberian civil war

July 29, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- The real victims in Liberia's decades-long civil war often are not the ones fighting in it. Ordinary civilians are frequently the targets of attacks, while children as young as 7 or 8 years old are captured and forced to fight.

"It's like gang warfare; it's not trained disciplined armies," says Dr. Susan Weinger, an associate professor of social work at Western Michigan University, who in 2000 traveled to Liberia to take part in a fledgling program aimed at rehabilitating boys who had been conscripted into the civil war.

"They're like warring factions that fight each other, but also direct much of their fighting and their looting and their raping and their maiming and their killing at civilians."

Not only are civilians being brutalized and killed, they are increasingly suffering from a lack of clean water and the proliferation of disease and of starvation caused by the conflict. Equally sad is the capture, brutalization and conscription of young boys into the conflict, Weinger says. Unlike the situation in Iraq, U.S. military intervention in Liberia would be welcomed by both sides in the conflict, as well as the Liberian people, Weinger adds.

"Liberians love Americans, they idolize Americans," Weinger says. "They think we are connected to them, that we care about them. And they look to us for help, so that both sides said, 'Come.' America would come with a lot of respect there."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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