a soccer ball in a bustling street, 12-year-old Moses is
indistinguishable from the other ragged children in this bullet-scarred
over a year ago, the shy boy with an easy smile was part of the rebel
movement that terrorised this West African nation for a decade, its
fighters raping, maiming and killing adults and children even younger
like thousands of others, he is back with his family, trying to reclaim
a childhood torn apart by bloodshed and fear.
7,000 children left the battlefields when combatants in Sierra Leone's
savage civil war started turning in their guns last year -- the youngest
just 6 years old.
into the care of aid agencies, most spent months at centres designed to
ease their way back into civilian life and are now reunited with
many like Moses, whose mother, brother and two sisters were shot to
death in front of him when he was kidnapped two years ago, the struggle
to adjust into the families and communities from which they were ripped
away is only just starting.
UNICEF says many child soldiers find it difficult to stay with their
families. Many are in regions that were destroyed by the war, with no
schools, job opportunities or enough food to go around.
are rejected by their communities -- including members of their own
families -- because of the atrocities they were forced to commit, says
UNICEF representative Joanna Van Gerpen.
when friends and neighbours don't know what the children did, the stigma
of having been associated with the rebels -- even as captives -- can
make it difficult to fit in.
child fighters they just took what ever they needed. But now they have
to think about finding a job to get something they want.
jobs are scarce, and Sierra Leone's economy is in ruins.
neighbouring Liberia, which was destroyed by a 1989-96 civil war,
pressures like these pushed many ex-child fighters onto the streets of
the capital, Monrovia. From there, some were drawn into crime -- or back
to avoid a repeat in Sierra Leone, UNICEF and other agencies strive to
keep in touch with former child soldiers. Social workers meet regularly
with the children, their families, teachers and other community members
to provide counselling and mediation.
with tens of thousands of Sierra Leone citizens on the move, returning
to areas from which they were displaced by the war, UNICEF concedes it
is difficult to keep track of the children.
can also be hard to break the youngsters' links with former commanders.
(c) Child Labour News Service