By contributing to what is currently known about girls’ distinct experience in fighting forces, the presentation of findings from our study of girls in fighting forces is intended to assist the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the United Nations, other donors, conflictaffected governments, and local, national and international governmental and non-governmental organizations in developing policies and programs to help protect and empower girls in situations of armed conflict and postwar reconstruction. In addition, this book should alert child protection advocates at all levels to the presence and experiences of girls in fighting forces and facilitate the design of responsive gender-based policy, advocacy
and programs.

This book presents findings from a research study entitled “Girls in Militaries, Paramilitaries, Militias, and Armed Opposition Groups” for which we were co-investigators. Our work was funded by CIDA’s Child Protection Research Fund and implemented in partnership with Rights & Democracy. The study examined the presence and experiences of girls in fighting forces and groups within the context of three African armed conflicts— Mozambique (1976–1992), Northern Uganda (1986–present) and Sierra
Leone (1991–2002). Fieldwork in these countries was conducted between September 2001 and October 2002. In addition to that study, this book includes findings of a parallel study, “Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration: The Experiences and Roles of Girls in Sierra Leone and Northern Uganda,” by Dyan Mazurana and Khristopher Carlson, which was funded by the Policy Commission of Women Waging Peace. Fieldwork for this parallel study was conducted between September 2002 and February 2003.

One purpose of this research was to gather and analyze data to better enhance the protection of war-affected children, in particular, girls in fighting forces. Within the context of Northern Uganda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique, girls in the fighting forces have suffered major human rights violations, especially gender-based violence. The rights of these girls are under threat from their own governments, armed opposition forces, and, occasionally, by members of their communities and families. At times, girls are discriminated against by local groups and officials, governments and international bodies that keep secret or are unwilling to recognize their presence, needs and rights during conflict, post-conflict, demobilization and social reintegration.

Cross-cutting findings from the three countries reveal governments’ manipulation of international outrage over “child soldiers” to discredit armed opposition forces that oppose them, while simultaneously denying or attempting to cover up their own use of girls and boys. We found a pattern of governments pointing to violations of children’s rights by armed opposition groups, especially gender-based violations, while failing to address their own forces’ violations or to seek remedy for child and youth
survivors. The second cross-cutting finding highlights the key information that officials need to use and the action they must take in planning more effective DDR programs for children and youth.

Our conclusion explores the key implications of what it means to really see girls in fighting forces. It details the ways in which this recognition both enables and necessitates a deeper understanding of the types of armed conflicts we are witnessing today and suggests some of the means to address their profound consequences, which are experienced not only by the girls themselves, but by communities, nations and regions.