The Impact Of Large-scale Violence On A Child’s Literacy In Sierra Leone And Myanmar

In Sierra Leone, children are recovering from a massive civil war. In Myanmar, over 25,000 children fled their homes due to violence stirring up. Furthermore, children in other third-world countries are working in dangerous conditions to provide for their family. This leaves more than half of a country’s children population without an education due to their focus being aimed in another direction, however, it is not the child who should be blamed. Large-scale violence has taken a toll on the educational opportunities for the youth. To focus deeper into this problem, I will be performing research on how large-scale violence affects a child’s literacy in third-world countries. From 1991 to 2002, rebels sought to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government in Sierra Leone. During the first year of the war, the rebels were successful in taking control of large territories. As a result, instability instilled and caused a panic throughout the country. Along with the panic came a situation of loss, where families were separated and lives were taken. Kamara and McClelland (2008) reflect on the effects of the violence created in Sierra Leone towards Kamara’s lifestyle, Kamara lived in a small village in Sierra Leone when suddenly, rebels had attacked a village near her. She was eventually kidnapped by the rebels and tortured. Her hands were cut from her body by soldiers her own age so she was forced to turn to begging to survive. She did not have enough support to chase an education nor did she believe she was capable of doing so.

From her story, the audience is able to understand that the civil war had taken her chance at a better future. She faced a traumatizing situation where she had lost her hands and in return, her own hope at a better life. Kamara believed she was incapable of continuing at life so she turned to begging instead of finding another solution, which steered her time away from schooling. As a response, it was violence that affected her opportunity at an education. Sierra Leone’s civil war not only had an impact on bystanders, but it also had an influence on the participants. Young boys were being captured by the rebels and turned into soldiers. In Beah’s memoir (2007), we follow the journey of a young boy who’s village was ransacked by rebels. Due to the loss of his home, he is forced to travel from village to village, scouring for food. Eventually, he is captured and becomes a killing machine. From Beah’s story, we are able to understand that the violence occurring around him changed his well-being. He did not have the opportunity to gain any literacy skills because he was forced to dedicate his time toward the war. In the end, he managed to escape the war and make his way towards the United States, where he was able to gain an education. This is not the situation for most, as children are not always able to escape the war. Denov (2010) draws upon 80 in-depth interviews with children associated with the Sierra Leone civil war to showcase their limited access to quality education. In one interview, an unnamed boy stated, “‘The war has made me illiterate. Had it not been the war, I would be in school …. It has made me lose my family and has also stopped my education.’” He holds the war accountable for the deprivation of his education since it guided his focus towards the violence. From these three life stories, we are able to reach an understanding that violence in the form of war can play a huge part in the academic literacies of the youth. It can distract young kids from the main focus of education by steering them towards acts of brutality or uprooting them from their own home.

War is not the only form of violence that has the power to affect a child’s literacy in third-world countries. Violence within working environments are able to decapitate a child’s abilities to support a lifestyle in the future. It begins when the young children in the family feel compelled to become the breadwinners so their family could get through tough times, such as the inability to afford food. Due to their young age, they are placed in dangerous situations that will gradually affect their mental and physical health. For instance, children were forced to mine for diamonds since it was the most frequently used form of capital by the rebels in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, and other countries. According to Brilliant Earth (2019), “For children trapped in the diamond mines, life is full of hardship. Children work long days, often six or seven days a week. Compared with adults, they are even more vulnerable to injuries and accidents.” These young children do not have the time to receive an education because they are occupied with their own jobs. Due to the war created by the rebels, these jobs were created so that the rebels could afford to buy guns. The youth were forced to give up their education to work for wars they did not have an interest in. They worked in conditions that would be dangerous to their health, mentally and physically. From violence within the working system, the children would gain health problems or mental illnesses that would affect them in the future.

Other times, families could not afford to take care of their children because of the ongoing war in their country. During the Sierra Leone civil war, there was an economic instability so families used the wardship system, a system where parents gave up their child to promote his or her’s future prospects, to foster their child to more affluent families. By giving up their child, the child loses their background and their chance at an education. In other words, Tunde B. Zack-Williams (2006) notes, “These children often are deprived of education, whilst having to do chores for children of their foster parents, in order to free the latter to study.” (p. 7) The children in Sierra Leone cease to be family members, instead, they are simply seen as a source of income for the family. This system alienates young people in the country so when they eventually quit from the wardship, they become street children or in other terms, “homeless”. They have lost their social coping mechanisms because they were forced to endure chores for the duration of their childhood. From this, they are unable to return to their communities and therefore, schooling. The aftermath of the war had left an impact on the economy, which in return affected the education of adolescents. Constant violence can also uproot a family and cause them to migrate to another country. In August 2017, Rohingya began fleeing Myanmar due to the constant violence. They eventually found refuge in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh, but due to over half a million of Rohingyas fleeing, the camps became congested.

Since the central causes of the violence remains unsettled, the Rohingyas are unable to return to their home and are dealing with other important matters: deprivation of an education. In particular, the adolescents are dealing with the impact of a forgotten education, as according to UNICEF (2019), “Adolescents are the most excluded of all when it comes to learning, and even younger adolescents find little to do in the camp. This idleness and a lack of opportunity can be a recipe for trouble.” While in camp, the youth are not receiving an education because of the lack of resources. They just fled from their home country so they are preoccupied with other matters, but have set aside the thought of their children receiving an education. A lack of education is an obstacle that will haunt the future of the children, but due to the existing violence in their home country, they will not receive the education they need. Violence can leave a drastic impact on the education of the youth. It can push families out of their home country or force young children to work in life-threatening conditions. Not only that, adolescents are also forced to become soldiers, where they perform brutal and vicious deeds. Often times, the violence can overwhelm a child and force them to succumb to the brutality. Large-scale violence has the ability to steer a child away from gaining any literacy skills by having them focus on the violence itself. Violence can be seen as a distraction to a child’s education. It plays a big part in the illiteracy of third-world country populations and will continue to do so unless preventative measures are taken.

Works Cited

  1. Blood diamonds & violence in Africa. Retrieved from
  2. Beah, I. (2007). A long way gone: Memoirs of a boy soldier. Brantford, Ontario: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  3. Kamara, M., & McClelland, S. (2008). The bite of the mango. Toronto, Canada: Annick Press, Limited.
  4. Myriam Denov (2010) Coping with the trauma of war: Former child soldiers in post-conflict Sierra Leone, International Social Work, 53(6), 791–806, DOI: 10.1177/0020872809358400
  5. U. N. I. C. E. F. (2019). Beyond survival: Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh want to learn. Retrieved from
  6. Zack‐Williams, T. (2006). Child soldiers in Sierra Leone and the problems of demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration into society: Some lessons for social workers in war‐torn societies, Social Work Education, 25(2), 119-128, DOI: 10.1080/02615470500487085v
14 May 2021
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