Future of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone at risk – UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today that the future of thousands of Sierra Leonean children who once fought one of the world’s most vicious civil wars has now been thrown into doubt by a shortfall in funding for on-going education re-integration programmes.The agency’s two-year long educational courses for former child soldiers in Sierra Leone had scored many notable successes before donor support began to dwindle, UNICEF said, stressing the need for almost $1.4 million immediately and another $2.5 million in the near future.“We are now going to close these courses less than half-way through. We will have thousands of youth on the streets, many of whom have toted guns, who have had a taste of success in school, and to whom we are handing the bitter pill of failure,” UNICEF Representative to Sierra Leone Aboubacry Tall said from the capital Freetown.A total of almost 100,000 children would be affected by the pending cuts, a setback to the promises made during the 2000 peace settlement to make education a cornerstone of the demobilization process. “If we can’t show proof of the dividends of peace to children, how can we prove the dividends of peace to adults?” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “We’re faced this month with literally shutting down re-education and re-training programmes, and disengaging with thousands of young people who trusted us to deliver.”Ms. Bellamy warned that this was a dangerous development for peace in West Africa as a whole. “Many of the children who fight in these armies join because their parents have been killed, and they have no alternative survival structure,” she said.The warning comes at a time when a spate of fresh attacks in recent months, involving the use of child soldiers, has emerged in sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF said the phenomenon is not limited to that region alone – some 300,000 children involved as soldiers, guerrilla fighters, porters and spies are embroiled in conflicts in 30 countries around the world. read more