Conviction of former Liberian president of no help to former child soldiers
Boys drafted to serve in military carry physical and psychological scars
The conviction of former Liberian president Samuel Taylor for crimes
against humanity came as little relief to the former child soldiers of
Sierra Leone. The young boys and men who were pulled from their homes to
serve in their nation's disastrous civil war left thousands of their
families and friends dead, and will bear the physical and psychological
scars for the rest of their lives.
Many say that the attempted mainstreaming of former Sierra Leone child soldiers has been a failure. They say these boys and young men were trained in jobs that have no practical application in their villages, and return home to unemployment.
Taylor was charged with crimes against humanity, mass killings, sexual violence and the use of child soldiers through his support of the rebel Revolutionary United Front in exchange for "blood diamonds." Furthermore, Taylor is accused of having masterminded the use of drug-fuelled child soldiers in combat.
Former child soldier Ishmael Beah says that he was forced to join Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war at the age of 13. While he has been able to turn his life around, Beah now worries about the country's former child soldiers who are now unemployed.
"If Taylor is found guilty, it will be a great victory, not only for Sierra Leone, but for the whole of West Africa," Beah says, who fought in the army for three years before being rescued by UNICEF.
Beah says that the youth should be employed in order to avoid being used by political parties to disrupt the upcoming Sierra Leone elections.
"One of my greatest fears in Sierra Leone now is, if you have a large number of disgruntled and idle young people who have nothing to do with themselves, you have the possibility of sparking anything," Beah says.
Unemployed youth are easy targets for recruitment, says Beah. "The guy hasn't had anything to eat for today, so he is not thinking long term, he's thinking short term, about what he can eat now," Beah says.
"I used to be in that position. You can't expect anybody with short-term thinking to think for the future if you can't provide them with the opportunity to have one."
There are an estimated 10,000 child soldiers used in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war. During the war, rebels cut off the arms of those who had voted in the country's elections, and left more than 50,000 people dead.
The U.N.-brokered Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process was intended to disarm and provide training to former fighters, and support them to rejoin their communities. Ex-combatants received vocational training such as mechanics, driving and carpentry.
According to a 2005 U.N. report titled Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Stability in Africa, about 71,000 ex-combatants were disarmed and demobilized.
Many former fighters say that the program did not work.
Tamba Fasuluku says that he was fortunate to be reintegrated into society and now works as a pastor. But he says that many of the young boys his forces conscripted have not been so lucky.
"It pains me now to see these young boys languishing on the streets without jobs," Fasuluku says. "They have also become easy targets for greedy politicians who use these boys to cause trouble in society."
He says that most of the political violence in Sierra Leone is perpetrated by ex-combatants, saying it is because they were given access to arms and exposed to violence at a tender age during the war.
"If the government and other stakeholders do not come together to take these boys off the streets, they will continue to go astray, and that's dangerous for peace," Fasuluku says.
A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Sierra leone, civil war, child soldiers, mainstreaming
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