The IRC Prepares to Receive Child Soldiers Freed by Sierra Leone Rebels
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 rebel atrocities against civilians.
The IRC has not received a final count on the children who will be transferred to its care, and an exact date has not been set. Children originally from Kono and Kailahun districts in eastern Sierra Leone are expected to be taken to the IRC’s interim care center in Kenema in the coming week, while children originally from the Southern Province will be brought to IRC’s facility in Bo.
“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.”
Once the children are in the care centers, the IRC will provide counseling and other psychosocial services, as well as education, skills training, and social activities that will help them eventually reintegrate into their communities. At the same time, IRC staff members will be tracing their families and preparing the children and their communities for reunification.
The IRC has assisted some 1,000 former child combatants and separated children in Sierra Leone in the past year. “Our interim care centers provide a safe place where the children can learn to trust again and begin to heal, while their families are being located,” said Marie de la Soudiere, director of IRC’s programs for war-affected children. “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.
“In the past few months we’ve been able to reunify dozens of children with their families, and place many others, whose families are still in rebel-held territory, with carefully selected foster families,” said Ziebert. “We’re excited and ready to receive the new arrivals.”