Pro Publica writes about the Liberian civil war:

Taylor commanded a pauper’s army that grew to thousands, led by a handful of trusted lieutenants, Libyan-trained mercenaries and professional military men.

Among the most notorious recruits were the Small Boys Unit — young children, often orphans, who swore allegiance to “Papai,” as Taylor was called. To prove their loyalty, the children sometimes had to gun down their mothers and fathers. They would become among some of the most vicious killers in a war of heartless, mindless, unfathomable killing.

Pro Publica is a fairly reliable source, but still one has to wonder the level of implausibility that children were required to do this, that is kill their parents.

A similar claim is found in a Child Soldiers International's, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Liberia, but the source and evidence is again somewhat vague.

Many were forcibly recruited and forced to rape, torture or kill fellow villagers or even relatives in order to instil loyalty. [cited to Beauchemin, E., "Child soldiers in Liberia", Radio Netherlands.]

What level of evidence exists for the highlighted claim?

(Somewhat of an side, Taylor was judged and found guilty at the Hague for war crimes committed in neighboring Sierra Leone. The proceedings however followed a novel “notice pleading” format and avoided Milosevic-trial-style level of detail, so the charges were only generally outlined, which isn't helping answer this particular question.)

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    I think I'd word the title a little differently. The boys weren't trying to join Taylor's forces. Taylor made them join, then forced them to do terrible things so that they wouldn't (couldn't) back out. Once you've killed your mother/father/siblings there's no place for you to run to and you believe yourself to be as evil as the (insert obscenity here) people who made you do it.
    – JRE
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 15:37
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    @JRE: changed the title to be closer to the source Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


Libera created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which collected evidence, interviewed witnesses, and released a report. The consolidated final report, on p. 261, says:

One of the most harmful aspects of the conflict was the recruitment and use of child soldiers, a tactic favored by Taylor’s forces, but also used by other factions. Children, sometimes as young as six or seven, were taken from their families, given drugs and guns, and forced to kill.

Psychological techniques were used to ensure their loyalty and fanaticism, such as forcing them to rape or kill their own family members, which had the additional effect of preventing their return home.

I didn't notice until some time after writing this answer, but the title of the OP's question was:

Did some Liberian child soldiers have to gun down their parents in order to join Charles Taylor's force?

"In order to join" is a misunderstanding of the situation. Child soldiers in this conflict didn't want to take up arms. They were forced to. An armed group would arrive in an area. Girls were raped and often taken as sex slaves. Many older people were killed. Boys experienced very little of this violence, but only because they were valuable as soldiers. A boy who refused to become a soldier would probably be killed.


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