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1998 (Narrative Date)

There are an estimated 36,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Sierra Leone (GSI 2018). Sierra Leone is a source and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. During the Sierra Leone Civil War 1991 to 2002 the Revolutionary United Front  (RUF) sought to mobilise a youth underclass to form a ‘people’s army’ to overthrow the Momoh regime. The RUF abducted and trained numbers of captured youth to fight as child soldiers in their guerrilla warfare.

Gabriel* was captured as a youth in a raid by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone. Gabriel tells of how he escaped from the militant forces after being held for a week.

I was only with them for one week and then I escaped… We had just reached the Malal hills…I escaped when we were washing at the waterside. It was the last camp before the main [Malal] camp. I told Braima Conteh [the guard] that I wanted to wash before we climbed the hill. I was in school uniform. It was 6.00 a.m. The guard went with me, even to the toilet. There was thick bush along the river. I loosened my trousers as if to ease. Then I ran off and hid in the bush. I was two days in the bush before I escaped.


At first I followed the river, then I saw a canoe and crossed. Then I said, ‘Today I am free’. I walked in the bush until I reached the Makeni road. I came across an abandoned village. I picked some oranges, but was afraid. I thought, the road is not safe. I met people hiding in the bush. I met one Abu Sesay, a schoolboy from Makeni. His mother cooked for me. Next day I planned to try and reach Makeni.

I went into the bush to sleep. When dawn broke I went back to the Lunsar-Makeni highway. I stopped a vehicle but they were afraid to take me, my clothes were so dirty. They held me at Fadugu checkpoint because I had no identity card. They said, 'Wait for the boss.' When the lieutenant came I explained that I had lost my ID. He accepted my story and gave me a letter 'to whom it may concern', saying I was a fifth-former from K[. . .] School.

The lieutenant stopped a vehicle and sent me down to Port Loko. There I sent a message to my mother. People came from [...] to collect me. But one military man stopped me, stripped me naked and said I was a rebel spy, threatening to kill me. Once you have become a 'bush creature' people run away from you.


Narrative 8 from Krijn Peters and Paul Richards, “Why We Fight: Voices of Youth Combatants in Sierra Leone”, Source Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 68, No.2 (1998): 183-210.