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Liberian Orphanage Takes in Children Abandoned by Peacekeepers

  • Anne Look

ECOMOG soldier in Liberia (file photo from 1996)

ECOMOG soldier in Liberia (file photo from 1996)

DAKAR - An orphanage on the outskirts of Monrovia has taken in dozens of children fathered by West African peacekeepers in the 1990s during Liberia's civil war. The orphanage is now using the Internet to try to reunite the children, now teenagers, with their fathers.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS sent soldiers from its peacekeeping force, known as ECOMOG, to Liberia in 1990. Civil war was raging.

Liberians say the ECOMOG soldiers fathered and then abandoned hundreds, some say thousands, of children to Liberian mothers in the ensuing eight years. The force numbered 12,000 soldiers at its peak.

An orphanage on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia, began taking in children, like 14-year-old Joe Lamin, whose mothers could no longer support them.

"I am told that my father was a Nigerian peacekeeper, but I don't know him. Right now, I am in school and I want to be an engineer when I grow up but I don't have the support. So I'm calling on my daddy. I'm told he is in Nigeria. I don't even know his name, but I want him to come to Liberia and find me. I really want to know my father," Lamin said.

Reverend Abraham Cole set up the ECOMOG Children's Home in the mid-1990s. He says over the years, they have taken in 30 children of ECOMOG peacekeepers.

"We love them and they love us. We take care of them, money or no money. We keep them up. Government was helping us before during Charles Taylor's time. They gave us some money. They are more than welcome to help out again," Cole said.

The orphanage gets some funding from Liberia's Social Welfare Ministry and private donations. It also gets some revenue from small business activities like selling vegetables from its garden.

Cole says they want to offer technical and medical training for the kids to help them get jobs one day.

The children sleep at least six to a room at the home. They attend a nearby community school and play soccer and plant trees for shade in the yard.

Of the 35 kids currently living at the home, caretaker Noah Wleh says ten are children of ECOMOG peacekeepers.

"Their mothers come here on a daily basis to speak to them. Some of their mothers got married to different men who have refused to take them in. Most of the kids you see here, mothers have lost communication with their fathers. But we are in contact with some of their fathers by the Internet and some have realized that they left babies here. They have a future to come back for the children but we haven't seen one yet," Wleh said.

Wleh says they are using Facebook and other social networking sites to track down the fathers.

A VOA reporter in Monrovia spoke to some mothers who said the soldiers who fathered their children had left without even saying goodbye.

In 2003, the United Nations deployed a 15,000-soldier peacekeeping force, known as UNMIL, to Liberia to support the implementation of a peace agreement that officially ended the country's civil war. The U.N. force includes soldiers from the same West African countries that contributed to the ECOMOG force.

UNMIL spokeswoman, Isabelle Abric, said there are no documented cases of an UNMIL peacekeeper leaving a child in Liberia.

"If a case of pregnancy is reported to UNMIL and paternity is admitted by the U.N. personnel, action taken by UNMIL would include obtaining a commitment from the U.N. personnel involved to provide financial support to the woman concerned and care for the baby," Abric said.

Both ECOMOG and U.N. peacekeeping forces have non-fraternization policies with the local communities where they serve.