The Use of Children as Soldiers in Africa -Angola
“Between 1980 and 1988, in Angola, every third child has been involved in military operations and many have fired a gun at another human being.”
Children have been recruited and used as soldiers throughout the Angolan conflict. After the Lusaka Peace Accord in 1994 soldiers from both government and UNITA forces were officially demobilized. A total of 8,500 child soldiers9 were registered (children comprised 12 per cent of UNITA troops gathered in the 15 Quartering Areas), but this figure greatly underestimates the scale of the problem since many soldiers had been recruited as children but had reached 18 by the time of registration.10 By the end of March 1997, only 2,336 child soldiers had been demobilized and over 50 per cent of the total had deserted the Quartering Areas.11
“I didn’t want to join the Army, they made me join”, says Francisco, a 17-year-old Private in the Angolan armed forces, as he explains how soldiers burst into his home on a night three years ago in the interior province of Bie and took him away. “All these years, all I have wanted to do is go home. Now finally, I am going back to Bie to see my family and work with my father on his farm.” 12
According to the Government, no one below the age of 18 years is being recruited but non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organisations operating in Angola testify to the contrary. It is reported, for example, that forced recruitment of youth (‘Rusgas’) continued even after the reintroduction of conscription in 1993. Such recruitment no longer takes place in Luanda but in some of the suburbs and throughout the country, especially in rural areas.13 It has been claimed that military commanders have paid police officers to find new recruits. Children as young as 14 have been forced to enlist.14 It is estimated by one confidential source that there are currently more than 3,000 child soldiers in the Angolan armed forces (FAA), although UNICEF claimed that in 1997 there were 520 children in the FAA.
Following the lowering of the age of conscription in November 1998, the military census of all male Angolans born between 1 January 1979 and 31 December 1981 started on 18 January 1999 after a statement of the Minister of Defence, General Pedro Sebastião.15 The call-up came the day after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced his plan to withdraw the UN peacekeeping force from Angola. The young men have been gathered at an office near Luanda Airport to register. Under existing legislation women between 20 and 45 years of age may also be called up, but they are actually not recruited.16
It has been reported that wealthy Angolans have sent their children of draft age overseas to avoid army service. Furthermore, corrupt authorities were accepting money in return for official draft exemption, even though the Minister of Defence had publicly declared that “the defence of the motherland is a duty from which no Angolan citizen should be exempted”.17 Angolan news organisations have been specifically warned by a letter from the Minister of Social Communications, not to incite young men to oppose the country’s compulsory military draft registration.18
One source, requesting confidentiality, has asserted that boys in their early teens are still being rounded up and deployed. There are said to be very high desertion rates for these children, though it is not clear whether they are able to make it home. The same source claims that where very young children are initially recruited, they are ‘thrown back’ as the receiving military commanders do not want them.
Paido, an Angolan now 24 years of age, described the Angolan style of recruitment in an interview published in the New York Times at the beginning of 1999.
“I was walking with two girls. And they called me. I was too close to them, so I couldn’t run. Even though my identification card said I was underage — and that was true — I was big, they insisted I was old enough, and they grabbed me and took me to a police station. It was full of kids. (…) ”
“They put me in a cell with the other kids, while the cops went to get trucks. When they capture you they immediately send you to the provinces for training, far away where you don’t know anyone. I was very lucky. A neighbour saw me being taken and told my mother. My uncle is a policeman, and he talked to the station commander. When the rest of the guys were loaded on the trucks, my uncle got me out.”
New York Times, 20 January 1999.
Child Participation in Armed Conflict
Civil war has been the norm since the independence from Portugal on 11 November 1975. Following a cease-fire agreement in May 1991 (the Bicesse Accord) between the government and the insurgent National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), in October 1992 renewed fighting started in much of the countryside. A second cease-fire agreement, the Lusaka Protocol, was signed between the two warring parties on 20 November 1994. This peace accord provided for the integration of former UNITA insurgents into the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA). Military integration began in June 1996 and a Government of National Unity and Reconciliation was installed in April 1997. A 7,200-strong UN peacekeeping force (MONUA) was set up to monitor the implementation of the Lusaka Protocol.
In May 1997 the process to extend government into UNITA-occupied areas began, but fighting between UNITA rebels and the FAA continued. As the situation continued to deteriorate a split occurred within the UNITA forces in August 1998 and a new faction calling itself the Democratic Consciousness: Platform for Renaissance and Plural Understanding became semi-public on 2 November 1998.19 The fighting intensified in November 1998 when the government launched an offensive against UNITA, seeking to capture its headquarters in Andulo and Bailundo.20 Finally, on 17 January 1999, after the shooting-down of two UN-chartered aircraft in December 1998 and the further increase in the level of hostilities in the country, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Security Council that there was no more peace to keep and that the UN was ending its peacekeeping operations. The 1,000 UN military, police and civilian personnel are expected to be out of Angola by 20 March 1999.
It has been reported that both Namibia and Zimbabwe have sent troops to Angola to back the Angolan armed forces in their offensive against the UNITA rebels, although there are no precise figures on the size of this support.21 At the same time, Angola has sent troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to support President Laurent-Désiré Kabila.22
More recently, Angola accused Zambia and its former Defence Minister, Mr Ben Mwila, of involvement in an illegal support network for UNITA. Mr Mwila angrily denied these charges and asked for tangible evidence of these allegations.23 On 9 February, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) offered to try to help defuse tensions between the two countries. SADC was prepared only to seek a political solution and would not send a verification mission to Zambia to verify the allegations.24
Armed Opposition groups25
• Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). It was claimed that some 10,600 of roughly 18,500 UNITA troops had been integrated into the national army and a further 24,000 or so fully-equipped troops plus an additional 35,000 soldiers were awaiting demobilisation.26
• Following a split within UNITA in August 1998 a new faction called Democratic Consciousness: Platform for Renaissance and Plural Understanding was formed (see above). It was reported that about 4,000 UNITA soldiers had deserted and surrendered their weapons to the Angolan authorities. These men come from the UNITA breakaway faction.27
• The Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave (FLEC): this opposition group split into many factions which are currently operating within the enclave : the FLEC-FAC (FLEC-Cabindan Armed Forces) and the FLEC-Renovada. Both number about 1,500-2,000. 28
In 1996, UNITA began demobilizing its child soldiers and had returned 2,000 children to civilian life by January 1997.29 Yet despite pledging not to recruit children again30 UNITA has continued to recruit great numbers of children into its ranks.31 In 1998, the Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development (Afronet) and Human Rights Watch alleged that UNITA was abducting children and young men and women between 13 years of age and their early 30s living in border towns of Cazombo and Lumbala Nguimbo.32 In addition, it was previously reported that in July and August 1997 Rwandan refugees, including 200 youths, were forcibly recruited when they entered areas of Angola under UNITA control.33 According to the United States Department of State, in 1998 UNITA conducted forced recruitment, including of minors, throughout all of the country’s disputed territory. Recruits were taken to isolated military camps and subjected to psychological stress and extreme hardships; those who attempted to desert were executed. Women, many as young as 13 years old, were recruited forcibly to serve as porters and camp followers, and reports of sexual assault were widespread and credible.34 It is estimated by one confidential source that the total number of child soldiers in UNITA is currently about 3,000.
A number of different sources have also stated that the Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave also recruited children into their forces. The FLEC-FAC was reported to have children as young as eight years of age among its ranks35 and that 30-40 per cent of them were girls.36 A similar situation is believed to exist in the breakaway FLEC-Renovada.37