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Government forces

There were no indications of child soldiers in government armed forces.

Non-state armed groups

Former combatants from armed opposition groups, including some children and known child recruiters, were actively involved in recent conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.231 The Special Court in Sierra Leone indicted several former leaders of armed opposition groups for conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into their groups or using them to participate in hostilities. Observers stated that the indictments provided a positive precedent to ending a culture of impunity.232 Foday Sankoh, a former leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) died of natural causes on 30 July 2003. He was being tried by the Special Court together with three of his top commanders for war crimes, including conscription of children into the armed opposition group.233

Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 4 June, for “bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes”, including the conscription or enlistment of children under 15 years of age while backing the RUF during the civil war.234 After being forced to step down as president of Liberia he fled to Nigeria where he was believed to remain.

Demobilization and child protection programs

During a trip to West Africa in February 2003, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict applauded disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) efforts by child protection agencies.235 However, Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, said in a statement made in July 2003 that UNICEF’s program to reintegrate more than 7,000 children who fought in the civil war was threatened by a shortfall in international funding. The UN agency estimated that 1.4 million dollars were needed immediately and another 2.5 million dollars in the near future to complete the program.236

Some organizations, such as the Women’s Commission on Refugee Women and Children (WCRWC), expressed concerns about children’s DDR programs in Sierra Leone, highlighting gaps in the process, particularly regarding the needs of girls and former child soldiers from the RUF.237 It was estimated that hundreds of girl children associated with the fighting forces in the Sierra Leone conflict remained with their former commanders.

The use of between 2,000 and 3,000 former child soldiers of ages ranging between 10 and 15 as diamond miners in northern and eastern parts of Sierra Leone represented another area of concern. These children were rarely paid more than 50 cents a day and working conditions were extremely harsh.238

Some former child soldiers displaced to refugee camps in Guinea were reluctant to repatriate to Sierra Leone, fearing revenge attacks because they were known to communities and had not gone through DDR processes.239


· DDR programs should take into account the specific needs of girls, former child soldiers who have attained the age of majority or are currently displaced, and other vulnerable youth who may be marginalized from existing processes.

· DDR programs should also follow up on demobilized children at risk of being exploited as cheap labour.

· UN agencies working with displaced, separated or other vulnerable Sierra Leone children should take specific measures to protect them from possible recruitment into armed forces and groups at conflict in the region, with particular attention paid to border and refugee communities.

· The UN should encourage member states to support, financially and politically, the work of the Special Court, to enable it to carry out its mandate.

231 HRW, “Regional Crisis and Human Rights Abuses in West Africa”, 20 June 2003.

232 IRIN, 19 March 2003.

233 AFP, “Sierra Leone ex-rebel leader Foday Sankoh dies”, 30 July 2003.

234 AFP, “Liberian president charged with war crimes by Sierra Leone court”, 4 June 2003.

235 UN, Press Release, 24 February 2003.

236 AFP, “Plight of child soldiers in Sierra Leone neglected: UN”, 22 July 2003.

237 WCRWC, Letter to Mr Olara Otunnu, February 2003.

238 AFP, “Blood diamonds: relative success of Kimberley Process in Sierra Leone”, 20 May 2003.

239 Information received from Save the Children, 17 March 2003.

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January 2003