Demobilized child soldiers transferred to IRC Care centers in Sierra Leone
They are among more than 800 children freed by Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels over the past month. All of the children had been abducted by the rebels to serve as combatants or slaves in a 10-year civil war marked by horrific atrocities against civilians. It remains unclear how many more children will be freed.
"The release of these children represents the first significant demobilization of child soldiers by the rebels since the breakdown of the peace process in May 2000," said Robyn Ziebert, director of IRC programs in Sierra Leone. "These children now have a second chance at having a normal childhood and the IRC will do everything it can to speed their healing and return them to their families."
Those already freed were handed over to aid agencies in a series of ceremonies in various locations. As part of the ceremonies the children take off their uniforms and discard their weapons in exchange for civilian clothing. During some of the ceremonies, the children burned their uniforms in bonfires as they sang songs and danced.
The IRC has been involved in screening the children to identify which ones had been actual combatants. This helps determine the type of care and counseling they will receive.
Children originally from Kono and Kailahun districts, are being taken to the IRC's care center in Kenema while fewer numbers, originally from the Southern Province, have been transferred to the IRC's center in Bo. At the centers, the children are receiving psychosocial and health services and non-formal education while efforts are made to locate family members. Marie de la Soudiere, director of IRC programs for war-affected children, reports that in the past week, IRC staff members in Kenema were able to locate the families of 21 children who arrived earlier this month and that preparations are being made for family reunifications and community reintegration.
Generally, the IRC carefully selects foster families for the older children, until their families are located and ready to receive them. These families usually provide housing, food, and skills training in such sectors as farming. The younger children remain under the IRC's care at the centers while tracing takes place.
"Our interim care centers provide a safe place where the children can learn to trust again and begin to heal," explains de la Soudiere. "However the most crucial part our work comes after reunification, in supporting the children, their families and their communities during the difficult reintegration period."
The IRC helps develop community-based committees to assist in this process. The support also involves providing educational and vocational materials with the aim of promoting the child's ability to engage more fully in community life. The IRC has assisted more than 1,000 former child combatants and separated children in Sierra Leone in the past year.
For more information, contact:
Timothy Bishop, West Africa regional director 212-551-0989 or email timothy@theIRC.org
Media inquiries can be made to:
Melissa Winkler, Phone (212) 551-0972
Edward Bligh, Phone: (212) 551-3114