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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

SIERRA LEONE: Child soldier rehabilitation programme runs out of cash

ABIDJAN, 22 July 2003 (IRIN) - A programme to rehabilitate more than 7,000 child soldiers who fought in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war is in danger of stalling because of a serious shortfall in funding, the UN children's fund (UNICEF) warned on Tuesday.

UNICEF said that US $1.4 million is needed immediately and a further $2.5 million would be required in the "near future" if their critical re-education and re-training programmes were to be completed.

"We are now going to close these courses less than halfway through," UNICEF's Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in a statement. "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. We have war on the borders of this still fragile country," she said.

"If we can't show proof of the dividends of peace to children how can we prove the dividends of peace to adults," Bellamy added.

UNICEF's representative in Sierra Leone, Aboubacry Tall, said the two-year-old child soldier re-integration programme had already scored many notable successes. "Around 98 percent of former child fighters and separated children have returned to their communities," he said.

Hundreds of villages had been strengthened with the resources to welcome the children lost to war and to help them adjust to village life again, Tall said. Thousands of young minds once engaged by fighting had been re-engaged by training programmes that promise a future, he added. But Tall warned that the job remains incomplete.

UNICEF warned that the threat to the rehabilitation programme in Sierra Leone comes at a time when the use of child soldiers is once more surging across Africa, particularly in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Burundi.

UNICEF said that at any given time some 300,000 children were involved as soldiers, guerilla fighters, porters, spies and sex slaves in conflicts in 30 countries around the world.

Meanwhile, UN representatives and the head of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed deep concern at the deteriorating situation in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, terming as "unacceptable" the mobilisation of children and women in violation of all agreed international norms and standards.

The joint statement was issued by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa Ould Abdallah, ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, and UNICEF's Regional Director for West and Central Africa Rima Salah.

They said: "A key priority is the release of abductees, including forcibly recruited child soldiers. It is estimated that one out of every ten Liberian children may have been recruited at some time into the war effort both in Liberia and in neighbouring countries contributing to the culture of violence that we are witnessing in the region."

"Impunity for violations of children's rights must stop," they insisted, noting that "some actions against children and women constitute crimes of war under the Statute of the International Criminal Court."


Theme(s): (IRIN) Children



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