By Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor
It has been reported in Liberia, especially in Monrovia, youth in communities such as ghettos and shanty structures, usually come out during night to hijack and sometimes burglarized homes. Most Monrovians called these youth, ‘Zogos, because they are so many like the caterpillars.’(https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/2016news/new-breed-of-criminals-liberia-s-pickpockets-known-as-zogos/)
Since the inception of the LiberianCivil war in December of 1989, there has been the disruption of foodsupplies, the destruction of crops andagricultural infrastructures; this includes the disintegration of familiesand communities, the displacement ofpopulations and the destruction ofeducational and health services as well as water and sanitation systems. These destructions can in no way becompared to the seriousness of thedamage and heavy toll on the mindsof Liberian children who livedthrough and witnessed various formsof atrocities during the war. Thewounds inflicted by the civil war onchildren – physical injury, gender–based violence, psychosocial distress, are affronts that would have a lastingimpact on the present and futurehuman resource development ofLiberia. Indeed, armed conflictaffects all aspects of childdevelopment, such as physical, mental and emotional stability.
The war in Liberia has exactedterrible tolls on children. Childrenand their families have suffered asrefugees, displaced people withintheir own national borders, or ascivilians remaining at home in oroutside of war zones. The wars haveaffected children‘s physical health, mental health, day–to–day life, andhopes for the future. The wars havealso extracted a heavy toll on thehealth care system through the loss offacilities and infrastructure; the lossof supplies and equipment, physiciansand nurses. The economic hardshipsof war have resulted in fewerresources for health care. Prior to the wars, there were several medicaldoctors within the country, but thenumber of doctors decreased as thewar–years progressed.
Graca Michael, Expert of theSecretary General of the UnitedNations, stated in his report on childsoldiers that, when childrenexperienced traumatic or other eventsin times of war, they may suffer fromincreased anxiety about beingseparated from their families, or theymay have nightmares or troublesleeping. He emphasized that childrenmay cease playing and laughing, losetheir appetites and withdraw fromcontact. And those younger childrenmay have difficulty concentrating inschool. Older children andadolescents may become anxious ordepressed, feel hopeless about thefuture or develop aggressive behavior.
Those in the professions of educationand behavioral sciences, haverealized that infants and toddlers whowitnessed violence either in theirhomes or in their community showexcessive irritability, immaturebehavior, sleep disturbances, emotional distress, fears of beingalone and regression in toileting andlanguage skills. Exposure to trauma, especially violence in the immediateenvironment, interferes with a child’snormal development of trust and laterexploratory behaviors, which lead tothe development of autonomy. Despite the limited research in thisarea, however, much can still begleaned from existing studies aboutthe effects of children’s exposure toviolence.
Dr. Joy D. Osofksy, Professor ofPublic Health, Psychiatry &Pediatrics at Louisiana StateUniversity Health Science Center, outlined in her research on familyviolence states that violence causesadverse effects on children’sphysical, cognitive, emotional andsocial development. Other studies onthe effects of exposure to violence onchildren also indicate an increase innegative behaviors. ProfessorOsofksy made a parallel betweenchildren growing up in inner cities inthe United States and those living inwar zones in places like Liberia andother countries whose populationshave suffered from civil wars. In fact, findings from several studies showposttraumatic stress disordersymptoms of children living in urbanwar zones to be like the symptoms ofchildren living in actual war zones.
Child soldiers were recruited in manyways. Some were conscriptedespecially under the Charles Taylor &Samuel Doe’s governments; otherswere press–ganged or kidnapped, andstill others forced to join armedgroups to defend their families. Inmany instances, recruits werearbitrarily seized from the streets, oreven from schools and orphanages. During this period, armed militia, police or army cadres roam thestreets, picking up anyone theyencountered. For example, hungerand poverty drove some parents tooffer their children for service; andencourage their daughters to becomewives of rebel commanders andfighters. Throughout the war years, children became soldiers simply tosurvive. The various rebel groupsprovided a refuge, serving as a kindof surrogate family. Childrensometimes join one of the rebelgroups to guarantee simple regular meals.
The recommendations below were generated from the Report by GracaMachel, Expert of the Secretary–General of the United Nations. These recommendations were put in place atthe international level to help solve some of the problems these child soldiers were confronted with daily.
A. Programmes at the national andlocal levels, should be designed toplace special emphasis on providingappropriate educational andrecreational activities for adolescentsaffected by armed conflicts.
B. Special efforts should be made fordemobilized adolescent soldiers, suchas projects which offer alternativelivelihoods and promote theirreintegration into their communities. Human resources development, including youth education, employment and training schemes, should be promoted.
C. Intergovernmental bodies, UnitedNations agencies and otherorganizations should supportGovernments in strengtheningnational legislative frameworkschallenging any aspect ofdiscrimination against women, and girls.
The Weah Administration mustendeavor to develop an educationagenda that will put in place acomprehensive program oriented toproviding adolescents a sense ofmeaning and purpose by involvingthem in developing and implementingprograms for younger children in thecommunity. Adolescents have specialneeds and special strengths, and theyshould be active participants increating solutions, not just as victimsor problems but as survivors.
In order to ensure that their needs aremet, young people should be involvedin community–based relief, recoveryand reconstruction programs. Thiscan be achieved through, forexample, vocational and a skilltraining that not only help to augmentyouth’s incomes, but also increasestheir sense of identity and self–worthin ways that enhance theirpsychosocial well–being. Institutionslike the Booker T. WashingtonInstitute and other vocationalinstitutions of learning should beeconomically empowered in order toprovide the needed vocationaltraining and skills to former schoolage combatants. All vocationalschools, be it governmental orprivate, should operate under theguidelines of the Ministry ofEducation. A prescribed post warvocational curriculum needs to be putin place that would accommodate theeffective molding of the minds offormer child soldiers.
I honestly agreed with what a student at the University of Liberia wrote, “I am urging the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to be very proactive than ever before in the eradication of cocaine, opium and other antidepressant drugs from the Liberia market and hideouts to rescue young people who are usually dependent on these harmful substances” (Francis G. Boayue, The Perspective.org, 16 February 2019).
Liberian youth of war, begging for food and money on the streets of Monrovia
The task of reintegration of Liberianchildren of war is the responsibility ofall Liberians, especially the religious community, the civic society and the business community. The Liberian Government cannot do it alone. Proper reintegration program can alsohelp to normalize life and to developan identity separate from that of thesoldier. A difficulty to be faced is thelikelihood that former combatantsmay have fallen far behind in theirschooling, and may be placed inclasses with much younger children. Specific measures may be required, such as establishing special classesfor former child soldiers, who canthen be reintegrated into regularschools.
The process of reintegration inLiberia must help children establishnew foundations in life. Re–establishing contact with the familyand the community is important forformer child soldiers who have grownup away from their families and whohave been deprived of many of thenormal opportunities for physical, emotional and intellectualdevelopment. Providing educationaland vocational opportunities toformer child combatants may preventthem from joining gangs, or roamingthe streets of Monrovia at nightconducting mayhem and other formsof violent acts on peaceful residents.
The effective reintegration of Liberian youth classified as Zogos is paramount to the success and durability of Liberia as a functional civilized society. The greatest peril tostability in Liberia is illiteracy ofLiberian youth. The 14 years of warhave taught us the lesson of illiteracy. The question that one needs to ask is: what can we do as Liberians to createa stable frame of mind for each ofLiberia’s children of war or do we continue to ignore them and pay the price and consequences of their actions in society?
Mr. Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is a graduate of Cuttington University, Liberia; Howard University, Washington, D.C, and Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. He is a former Deputy Managing Director of the National Port Authority of Liberia, NPA. He can be contacted at: email@example.com