FREETOWN – “The police stop us all the time. Sometimes they try to take money from us, sometimes they threaten to arrest us. But the usual trick is to check our handbags. They plant some drugs, then tell us to come with them to the station. The only way to get out is have sex with the policeman, otherwise we go to jail.” Just 20 years old, Maryama* has lived on the ramshackle streets of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, for eight years. Her father died when she was 10 – possibly from HIV-AIDS, although nobody knows for sure – leaving her mother unable to bring up their three children. This was at the height of Sierra Leone’s civil war, infamous for anti-government rebels who hacked off arms and hands to deter civilians from voting in elections.
FREETOWN — The civil war in Sierra Leone was one of the most violent anywhere in the late 20th century. A death toll of around 50,000 did not tell the full story of a conflict where much of the fighting was carried out at close quarters. Machetes were used to lop off hands and arms as a deterrent against voting; child soldiers were forced to kill family members; women were abducted and raped; cannibalism was a war ritual among some combatants; and foreign mercenaries roamed the land. Rebels were funded by diamond exports and supported by Liberian warlord-later-president Charles Taylor – who is now standing trial in The Hague at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.