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Press release

Peace process falters for child soldiers of Sierra Leone

FREETOWN/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 22 July 2003 - UNICEF says that the re-integration into civilian life of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone is under threat by flagging support from international donors.

The future of more than 7,000 children who once fought one of the world’s most vicious civil wars has been thrown into doubt by a shortfall in funding.

The UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, says that the breakdown of the re-integration programme is “the breaking of the promise of peace for these children, and a dangerous development for peace in West Africa as a whole.”

“Many of the children who fight in these armies join because their parents have been killed, and they have no alternative survival structure,” she said. “An education offers that structure.”

The warning comes at a time when a spate of fresh attacks in recent months using child soldiers has emerged in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the time of the peace settlement in Sierra Leone in 2000, the promise of education for former child soldiers was a cornerstone of the demobilization process. As a part of the peace process, former child soldiers were offered condensed primary school courses or alternative vocational training courses. They duly took those courses, and the majority have yet to complete them.

“If we can’t show proof of the dividends of peace to children, how can we prove the dividends of peace to adults?” said Bellamy. “Under the peace settlement the international community agreed to help forge the guns into pens, and now we’re faced this month with literally shutting down re-education and re-training programmes, and disengaging with thousands of young people who trusted us to deliver.”

Speaking from Freetown, the UNICEF Representative to Sierra Leone, Aboubacry Tall, said that until now the two year long child soldier re-integration programme in Sierra Leone had scored many notable successes.

“Around 98% of former child fighters and separated children have returned to their communities. Hundreds of villages have been strengthened with the resources to welcome back children lost to war, and to help them adjust to village life again. And thousands of young minds once engaged by fighting, have been re-engaged by training programmes that promise a future.”

But according to Tall the job remains incomplete.

“We are now going to close these courses less than half-way through. We will have thousands of youth on the streets, many of whom have toted guns, who have had a taste of success in school, and to whom we are handing the bitter pill of failure. And we have war on the borders of this still fragile country.”
UNICEF says that almost $1.4 is needed immediately, and a further $2.5 million needed in the near future, if critical programmes are to be completed. A total of almost 100,000 children are affected by the pending education cuts.

UNICEF says that the potential failure of the programme in Sierra Leone comes at a time when the use of child soldiers in Africa “has surged.”

  • An attack on the Burundian capital of Bujumbura on 13 July by more than 100 children from the National Forces of Liberation (FLN) left at least 15 of the young attackers dead, all aged from 11 to 15 years old.
  • Marauding armies in the eastern Congo are thought to rely on 30,000 child soldiers for up to half their troop strengths. The Union of Congolese Patriots uses an estimated 15,000 children under 18. Child soldiers have been widely documented in renewed clashes around the town of Bunia since May that displaced tens of thousands of people.
  • The Ugandan rebel of army known as the Lords Resistance Army has refined a cycle of kidnapping, murder, trafficking, and soldiering that relies on the constant forced recruitment of children. More than 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA.
  • Neighbouring Liberia, under the tutelage of President Charles Taylor, has consistently used child soldiers since the early 1990’s, and many of the most experienced men serving in his forces began as child soldiers. Child soldiers are being widely used in the current fighting to topple Taylor.

The phenomenon of child soldiers is common throughout the world. At any time some 300,000 children are involved as soldiers, guerrilla fighters, porters, spies, and sex in conflicts in 30 countries around the world. However observers say that a decade of cumulative recruitment has left many more brutalized by engagement in war.

Over the last decade, conflicts have claimed the lives of more than 2 million children, and left millions maimed or permanently disabled.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi is currently in Sierra Leone.

* * * *

For further information, please contact:

Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: (41-22) 909-5517
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF Media, New York: (1+212) 326-7426
Margherita Amodeo, UNICEF Media, Dakar: (221) 569-1926




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