Alhaji Babah Sawaneh was only 10 years old when he was forced to fight as a soldier with the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone. For the next two years, he fought in a war he described as “one of the most brutish and turbulent civil wars in the history of armed conflict”.
He was rescued in 2000, and a year later, became the first child to address the United Nations Security Council. That day, Alhaji told members of the Council what it was like to be a child soldier in Sierra Leone.
“I was used to fight when we were attacked,” he said. “During these attacks we killed people, burnt down houses, destroyed properties and cut limbs. But more often I went on food raids and did domestic work for my commander’s wife.”
At the end of his presentation, he said he was happy that thousands of children like him were given the chance to escape a life of violence with the support of the UN.
“I know there are more children held back, especially our sisters”, he cautioned at the time. “I ask this body on behalf of all the children of Sierra Leone to do all they can to bring our sad story to an end.”
Thirteen years later, on March 7th 2014, Alhaji came back to the Security Council.
“I would like to tell you what happened to me,” he said. “I was able to return to school and with the help of my foster family and with friends, I worked hard and I didn’t give up. Two years ago, I finished my Bachelor of social science.”
What happened to Alhaji in Sierra Leone 17 years ago should not fade away in history. Stories similar to his still happen to children all over the world in places that are affected by armed conflict.
“Today, there are so many children in desperate need of our help,” he said. “We need to work hard to protect them.”
He added that the objective of the campaign Children, not Soldiers – to end the recruitment and use of children by government security forces – will require a lot of work, but is achievable.
“Fifteen years ago, there were child soldiers in Sierra Leone,” he said. “I was one of them. Today, Sierra Leone is child soldier free.”
Nowadays, Alhaji dedicates his life to work at preventing conflict and speaking on behalf of children and young people, so that their story is known and their voices are heard.
Watch Alhaji Babah Sawaneh’s speech to the Security Council on March 7, 2014.