Child soldiers in Sierra Leone: national rehabilitation programme launched

Eleven years after the civil war ended in Sierra Leone, a nationwide drive has been launched to combat the military recruitment of child soldiers and rehabilitate those affected by the past

A five-year programme, developed and led by Canadian lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire, the Child Soldiers Initiative (CSI) is the first drive of its kind in West Africa. It aims to make child-rights mandatory for local police, the armed forces and prison officials, while outlining how troops must engage with children in combat.

The second phase of the drive will see former child soldiers employed to run the CSI school programme, which will teach youngsters about their legal rights and explain the definitions of child soldiery and tactics used in recruiting children as soldiers.

“It is an important project because it will enhance the military’s capacity to meet international standards and ensure adequate training for military personnel,” said Ismail Tarawalie, director of internal security at the Office of National Security.

The country, bordered by Guinea to the north and Liberia to the south, emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002 with a new generation of around 10,000 child soldiers who had fought and killed in the rebellion.

Today, a lasting feature of the war in which tens of thousands are said to have died and millions displaced, are the atrocities committed by the rebels, who would routinely cut off the hands or feet of their victims. The country still remains bottom of the United Nation’s league for human development.

“Recovery from the consequences of war takes time – even a lifetime,” said Saudamini Siegrist, a child protection specialist with UNICEF, who has praised the CSI initiative as “significant” in filling a gap in the country’s post-conflict rehabilitation scheme.

As part of the drive, troops are confronting child soldiers on the frontlines and joining peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Mali, where around 6,500 Sierra Leonean troops were deployed in January.