Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone, and Francis Bok, a former slave in Sudan, shared the stage today to discuss children in conflict. They spoke at the Reconciliation Forum in Washington, a conference aimed at discussing the “forces that divide people and ignite conflict but also those that can forge reconciliation and its ultimate goal, lasting peace.”
Despite their young age, the stories of Beah and Bak represent many years of hardship, as the men were caught up in the violence engulfing their countries starting at age 7 and 9 respectively. Each shared his story of “the day [his] new life began,” as Beah referred to the day his entire family was killed and he sought refuge at an army encampment. Bok described his final words with his mother before going to the market on an errand for his family, where hours later he would be abducted by an Arab militia.
“With drugs, through seeing so much violence, we lost ourselves completely… we lost our humanity.” Beah said of the ways the army inducted its young soldiers.
“But we are the fortunate ones,” Beah said.
As the introduction to the session noted, Beah and Bok were victimized, but they are not victims. They spoke about the specific conflicts which they know intimately, but their stories are not unique. Amnesty International estimates that at least 250,000 children are fighting in conflicts around the world, and iAbolish, an anti-slavery group, estimates that 27 million people are enslaved.
Both speakers have written books about their experiences and are now vocal advocates for others survivors.
Click here to learn more about a conflict today fought largely by child soldiers in Uganda, Southern Sudan, Congo, and Central African Republic.