Liberia: Helping Children Traumatized by War Return Home
The IRC has launched a program in Liberia’s remote Nimba County that will provide interim care, family tracing and community reintegration services for thousands of children who were separated, orphaned or abducted by the fighting forces during the country’s long and bloody conflict.
An estimated 15,000 children have been associated in some way with Liberia’s armed factions, drafted into service or abducted by the warring parties to either fight or work. The IRC program, part of a nationwide United Nations-organized disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration scheme, is expected to help thousands of children between the ages of eight and 18 return to a normal life. Many are severely traumatized by what they have experienced.
“There is an urgent need to help these children reintegrate into their families and communities,” says IRC child and youth protection coordinator in Liberia, Amy Wachtel.
Under the program, the IRC will carry out family tracing for children, including demobilized child soldiers, separated from their families. Many have been living apart from their families for years due to the violence and displacement caused by Liberia’s multiple conflicts over the past 14 years. Others, who fought in the recent conflict, have been separated from their families since the war ended over a year ago, living with their commanders or other soldiers.
The U.N. mission in Liberia has to date disarmed more than 65,000 fighters loyal to former president Charles Taylor and the LURD and MODEL rebel groups. After separated children are processed at a U.N. disarmament and demobilization camp, they are moved to IRC-run interim care centers in the Nimba town of Ganta. At the centers, children receive basic services such as food, psychosocial care, and reading and math classes while they await family reunification. In cases when families cannot be found, the IRC arranges for placement with foster families or other alternative care.
“Once children return home, we closely monitor their situation and also assist the family in placing and supporting the child in school or apprenticeships,” Amy Wachtel says.
“Ensuring that children have a positive role to play when they return home is critical. It is also important to hold discussions with the community on the importance of accepting ex-combatants into society.”
The IRC’s next step is to launch its child reintegration program in Liberia’s northwestern Lofa County, where disarmament and demobilization camps are scheduled to open in early September.