Sierra Leone

Bringing families together in Sierra Leone

A man looked at a video screen on a camcorder in shock and wonder. He started crying. "That's my daughter in there," he said. "I had no idea that she was still alive." After learning that the IRC was caring for her since her release by rebel forces in Sierra Leone, he begged her to come home. The IRC videotaped this plea to show his daughter, and eventually was able to reunite them.
The May 2001 peace agreement that ended the brutal war in Sierra Leone called for disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating children that had been abducted by the rebels. But the accord largely ignored the issue of girls who had been seized from their villages and forced to serve as wives, sex slaves, cooks, laborers and sometimes fighters, according to Catherine Wiesner, the IRC's child protection coordinator in Sierra Leone.

The IRC launched a special project to identify and care for girls and young women who had been demobilized, locate their families, arrange reunifications and help in the difficult process of community reintegration.

"Reintegration is difficult for all former child soldiers and we work with both boys and girls to make the transition as easy as possible," says Wiesner. "But the girls are more reluctant, because they are afraid they won't be accepted back into their families because of what they've been through, and because many of them have borne children from their forced marriages. They are afraid of being marginalized and ostracized," she said.

But the IRC's use of video to send messages back and forth between the girls and their traced parents is helping convince the girls otherwise. "Once the girls realize that their families understand what they've been through and that they were taken against their will, and once they hear and see their parents urging them to come home, the girls can't wait to return," Wiesner says.

The IRC has helped more than 60 girls return home through the video messaging project and more than more than 1200 child soldiers and other separated children overall.