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Ishmael Beah

January 04, 2015 Story  
Child Labor, Modern Slave Narratives, Forced Labor

Ishmael Beah was only 12 years old when a government army pulled him into the Sierra Leone armed conflict in 1993. Confused and afraid, Beah witnessed and participated in the atrocities of the civil war until he was rescued by UNICEF in 1996. 

When he was just 12 years old, he and his friends left his happy home to perform in a talent contest in a town a few miles away. While on the road, they found out that their village was attacked, so Beah and his friends ran back home only to face a horrific scene of death and carnage

The boys were forced to wander from village to village and after a year of wandering the countryside, Beah received news that his family was at a nearby village. As he approached the village, however, Beah only came upon gunfire, smoke and ashes. The whole village was burned down, and his family members were incinerated along with it.       

Without a family to reconcile with, Beah lost hope and found no reason to keep running. Beah went to a village run by government soldiers. There was food, soccer games and places to sleep, and Beah though it was a good place to stay. Staying at the soldiers’ village came with a price.  But “One day they just said, you know if you're in this village, you're gonna have to fight, otherwise you can leave. Some people tried to leave, but they were shot.”  Using fear, indoctrination, cocaine, marijuana and brown-brown (cocaine mixed with gun powder), the government army turned Beah and other children into killing machines.       

 Beah says his lieutenant became his father figure, and it was that bond that helpedUN workers rescue Beah from the armed group.  “The lieutenant went around and selected a few of us and said, ‘This man will take you and give you another life.’ And they took our weapons from us, and we actually felt that we were being pulled from family again.” The UN workers brought Beah and other child soldiers to a rehabilitation centre in Freetown.       

Today, Beah advocates for war affected youth. He's a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and a UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War. He co-founded the Network of Young People Affected by War and started the Ishmael Beah Foundation which assists in the reintegration of war affected youth.