NEW YORK, 19 February (OSRSG) - Under-Secretary-General Olara A. Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, will visit Sierra Leone from 22 to 28 February to assess the status of war-affected children in the post-conflict, peace-building phase. The visit is a follow-up to previous missions to the country undertaken by the Special Representative in 1999 and 2000, during which he proposed an action plan for the nation's children.
Since the Sierra Leonean conflict ended in January 2002, considerable progress has been made in advancing the protection and rehabilitation of children. An ambitious programme for the demobilization and reintegration of some 7,000 child ex-combatants has made significant progress, with some 97 per cent of them reunified to date with their families and communities. Child protection has been well integrated into the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), with the presence on staff of child protection advisers and ongoing training of peacekeepers in child rights and child protection.
Two initiatives that were proposed by Under-Secretary-General Otunnu in 1999 in his "Agenda for Action for the Children of Sierra Leone" - the National Commission for War-Affected Children and the Voice of Children, a radio station run by and for the children - will be inaugurated during his visit.
Children and the youth were severely affected by the decade-long conflict in Sierra Leone. They were forcibly conscripted by fighting forces, displaced internally or into neighbouring countries as refugees, and were deprived of education and basic health care. They were subject to sexual exploitation and abuse, and were also used as forced labour in the extraction of natural resources. Some of these problems persist, while new challenges, such as an upsurge in the phenomenon of "street children", have arisen.
During his stay, Mr. Otunnu will address these and other challenges for Sierra Leone's children in meetings with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and government ministers and officials, senior UNAMSIL staff and the United Nations country team, child protection agencies, children and civil society representatives. The Special Representative will also make field visits to Koidu, Bo, Daru, Makeni and Magburaka.
For further information, please contact: Jean-Victor Nkolo, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG), tel: +1-212-963-9879, fax: +1-212-963-0807, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or in Freetown: Masimba Tafirenyika, Acting Spokesman, UNAMSIL, tel: +232-22-273183/4, ext. 6817, e-mail: email@example.com.