Child Soldiers: Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front

Article excerpt

ANTHROPOLOGY AND SOCIOLOGY Myriam Denov. Child Soldiers: Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. xi + 246 pp. Map. Notes. References. Index. $85.00. Cloth. $28.99. Paper.

Child Soldiers is a comprehensive and thought-provoking examination of the subjective experiences of former child soldiers during Sierra Leone's brutal armed conflict. One of the book's strengths is Denov's careful articulation of the historical and contemporary factors underlying the conflict. A second strength is her use of Giddens's structuration theory (The Constitution of Society, Polity Press, 1984) to explore the structures that contributed to children's roles and the ways in which children exercised agency in the midst of these horrific circumstances. This book is based on qualitative research conducted by Denov and her research team, including seventy-six former child soldiers. Denov opens with the necessary definitions, explanations for children's involvement in wars, and media-derived descriptions of child soldiers; however, she does not present these uncritically. She appears most critical of the lack of attention to girls' involvement in armed conflicts. She rectifies this with details about the ways in which girls were used at every phase of this conflict and the invisibility and stigma they faced afterwards.

The experiences of child soldiers are presented in two chapters: one that examines the making of child soldiers from the time they were forcibly conscripted by the RUF, and another that looks at the unmaking of child soldiers at the war's end. Narrative descriptions are used to explore how the RUF turned children into combatants from the time of their abductions through creating conditions of profound disorientation, broken family bonds, constant insecurity, and unpredictable violence. In the midst this culture of violence, however, Denov identifies examples of child soldiers almost inconceivably exercising agency. Such examples include child soldiers hiding the drugs they were forced to take, excelling at handling weapons to earn the favor of commanders, girls marrying commanders as a way to end the sexual violence from other boys and men, and some even refusing orders or escaping. …