Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Here's a Story we found on Fatmata :

For the last 11 years, Fatmata Kamara, a beautiful 17-year-old, has rarely let people see her radiant smile. Haunted by all that she has lost during the savage decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, Fatmata has had little to smile about. During the war, she was taken from her family to work as a slave and the “wife” of a warlord.

Fatmata’s Story

In the abandoned house she shares with other homeless girls in the district of Kono, Fatmata recalled the terrifying time when rebels rampaged through the village where she was staying with relatives, looting and killing everyone, including her aunt and uncle.

"I was hiding under a bed with two other children," she remembered. "There was chaos everywhere. One of the rebels came and took me and hid me in the mosque, where the Imam prays. I thought I was going to die. I'll always remember that day, I'll never forget it."

Fatmata, one of only two survivors from the village on that fateful day, was barely six years old. She was taken to a rebel stronghold and forced to work under harsh conditions as a servant. "We had to work all day while they would curse my mother and abuse me," she recalled. When she got older, Fatmata was forced to become the second wife of one of her rebel captors.

When the civil war finally ended in 2001, Fatmata found her way to Kono, which was nearly destroyed. Too old for a foster home, she has had to fend for herself, along with other recently released or displaced girls, some of whom have children of their own to support. All of them missed out on years of formal education, so now they do what they can to survive, even if for some it means prostitution.

Fatmata clings to memories of her lost childhood. "I remember when I was living with my family how everything was easy," she sighed. "I miss my family desperately, especially my mother and my uncle."

Now that Fatmata is no longer living with the rebels, her deepest desire is to return home and be reunited with her family — not an easy task since she's not sure where her native village is located. And even if she finds it, there is no guarantee that her family will still be there or that they're even alive, because during the ten years of conflict, two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s population of nearly five million people was internally displaced.

Then, there is the problem of acceptance. Although Fatmata has learned to survive without her family, she has never given up hope that she will eventually find them. But, as with many girls, family acceptance after so many years away is a big concern.

She took a big step forward by sharing her story with Mariama, a social worker for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Using a technique called "video tracing”, Mariama made a tape of Fatmata describing her family and village.

Then T-Boy, an IRC assistant program manager in Kono, took the hand held video camera to the village where Fatmata thought might be home, hoping that somebody will recognize her or know where to find her parents.

Several weeks later, T-Boy returns. With him, he brought a video message from the village. As he played the videotape, all the other girls in Fatmata's house gathered around to watch. Fatmata saw instantly that her family had been found. Through her tears, she recognized her mother’s face for the first time in 11 years and her eyes lit up with happiness. All of the other girls hug her and erupt in songs of joy. T-Boy hoped that Fatmata's successful family tracing would encourage the other girls to share their stories as well.

Since many girls are concerned about their family's acceptance, this video messaging program is a safe and easy way to tell their families that they are alive and want to come home as well as to find out it their families want them back. 

In Fatmata's case, her parents can't believe she's alive. "When she was abducted, I cried for an entire year," reflected her mother. "I used to dream of Fatmata. It's been so long that I can’t even remember a time when we were together."

What’s Next for Fatmata?

Fatmata’s wishes came true. Her mother wants to see her daughter, as does her whole family and community. She still loves her and wants to see her to come home. "This is the best day for me," Fatmata said, flashing a luminous smile. 

Now that Fatmata is living with her family, she is thinking about opening her own business. Like the many other girls who have returned home through the IRC's "video tracing" project, Fatmata has hope that she can rebuild her life.

What Can You Do?

The UN sponsored a peace agreement, which calls for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of children who had been abducted by the rebels and forced to fight. As a result, a UNICEF sponsored agency, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), launched a special project to identify and care for girls who were forced to serve as wives, sex slaves, cooks, labourers or sometimes fighters. The IRC helps locate their families, arrange reunions, and help assist in the long and difficult process of community reintegration.

Learn more about the issues facing Sierra Leone by visiting the UNDP in Sierra Leone and the UNICEF site on Sierra Leone. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, offer concrete ways to become part of the solution.

Here's a story we found On a boy name Abu :

“I don’t know how old I am,” said Abu Bakar Bangura, a slight and serious young boy from the West African country of Sierra Leone. “I was very young when I was taken from my family,” he explained. Abu, as he is known, is one of the 10,000 children who were abducted from their homes and forced to become soldiers by both the pro-government and the rebel forces during the 10-year civil war that tore his country apart.

An estimated 300,000 children like Abu have been kidnapped or conscripted to fight as a child soldiers in wars around the world. In some ways, they are the lucky ones. They survived.

Abu's Story 

After being kidnapped by the rebel group, Abu was drugged, beaten, and forced to commit terrible atrocities. Instead of a childhood of innocence and affection, he lived a life of violence and fear. He was a fast learner and survived by following orders. “In the war, I was trying not to make wicked things. That’s why God saved me,” he said.

Although a UN-sponsored peace agreement called for the disarmament and release of all child soldiers in 1999, the fighting in Sierra Leone did not stop until 2001. Only then could these children put down their weapons and return to their homes and their childhoods. But many had forgotten how to be children and part of a family. Fighting and fending for themselves was all that they remembered. Those who could remember where they were from were often afraid to return for fear of rejection by their families.

The United Nations, its agency, UNICEF, and partners such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have been working to reunite former child soldiers with their families.

Actor Michael Douglas, a United Nations Messenger of Peace, met Abu while at the Child Protection Care Center in Kono in the eastern district of Sierra Leone. At its highest capacity, the Center housed as many as 166 former child soldiers, but when Michael met Abu, the Center had only a few occupants. Since the war ended, Abu had been in a French-speaking refugee camp, had lived on his own, and had now been at the Center for two months. But Abu’s time was running out, if his family wasn’t found soon, he would be placed in foster care, an option that he was not looking forward to.

"Abu has lost a lot; he doesn't know what it is to have someone take care of him," explained Samuel T. Kamanda, known as T-Boy, the IRC’s assistant program manager for the Child Protection Care Center.

Although T-Boy had already visited several villages trying to track down Abu’s family without success, he decided to follow one of Abu’s last leads - a village in another region of Sierra Leone. Michael Douglas accompanied T-Boy and Abu on the quest. After flying in on a UN helicopter, they walked for miles in a tiring search for Abu’s village and family.

Finally, after walking under the hot sun, they came to a village, and suddenly, while waiting for the village chief, Abu heard a cry of joy and surprise. It was his mother. Abu recognized her immediately and rushed to her crying with relief and excitement.

“It’s incredible to see Abu in his mother’s arms. I’m overwhelmed,” said Douglas. “I never expected to see Abu reunited with his family.”

What’s Next for Abu?

Today Abu is living with his family, but he carries deep emotional scars. It may take time for Abu to feel at home and to deal with the memories of a haunting past. But Abu is not alone. The IRC, with the help of the UN, has successfully reunited over 1,000 children and adolescents with their families. We can only hope that their struggles will be easier with their families there to support them.

What Can You Do?

Start by learning more about children in combat. The UNDP can give you background information about conflicts that enlist children in combat. UNICEF offers statistics about children in combat in countries around the world. Other organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International offer ways for individuals to help combat child soldiering.

UNICEF also works with partners, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), to provide many of these children with shelter, counseling, and skills training as they wait to be reunited with their families. There is always a risk, however, that as they grow into adulthood they will remain alienated and prone to violence. But with access to schooling and positive community influence, they have a chance to rebuild their lives.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which had been established under the 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement, published its report in October 2004. The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) completed its peacekeeping mandate in December 2005. It was succeeded by the United Nations Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), established by UN Security Council Resolution 1620, which was mandated to assist Sierra Leone in consolidating peace and human rights, building capacity of state institutions, and strengthening the rule of law and the security sector. 

In August 2007 the All People’s Congress (APC) won parliamentary elections. In September Ernest Bai Korom, representing the APC, was elected president, replacing Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. 

The conflict in Sierra Leone, which began in 1991, was officially declared over in January 2002 with completed disarmament and demobilization of armed groups.1 The Liberian conflicts of 1990–7 and 2000–3, and the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire since 2002, were intricately linked, with operations across borders, including in Guinea, which bordered all three countries, and a complex web of governments and armed groups providing support to factions in neighbouring countries.2 A migrant population of thousands of young fighters, including child soldiers, crossing the borders between Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, saw conflict mainly as an economic opportunity. Many had first been forcibly recruited as children in one conflict, then willingly crossed borders to take up arms in another, often with a different armed group. A 2005 study by Human Rights Watch found that most had been motivated by the promises of financial gain, and many could not articulate the political objective of the group they fought with. The risk of re-recruitment was exacerbated by high rates of youth unemployment and corruption and deficiencies in the implementation of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs.3 An August 2006 report by the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) noted that high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, across west Africa posed a risk to stability in the region. This was reiterated in a 2007 report by the UN Secretary-General which highlighted also the importance of reform of the security sector in countries in the region as a means of addressing it.

In May 2007 the Secretary-General assessed the security situation in Sierra Leone as stable but fragile, with risks to stability from the high rate of youth unemployment, concerns over the accountability of the authorities, the weakness of the justice system and the lack of improvement in general living standards.5 A June 2007 UN report on conditions in prisons indicated that failure to protect prisoners’ rights could also threaten the country’s stability. 

Sierra Leone was ranked the least-developed country in the world by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) 2007–8 Human Development Index, based on 2005 data.

The Child Rights Act, passed in June 2007, introduced into domestic law the international definition of a child as any person under the age of 18 and other provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.8 It included (Section 28) a prohibition on the use of land mines and other weapons declared by international instruments to be adverse to children.

The Sierra Leone government affirmed in 2006 in its second report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that, as stated in its declaration on ratifying the Optional Protocol, the age of recruitment into the armed forces had been raised from 17.5 to 18 years. The 2007 Child Rights Act enacted this into law, stipulating that the minimum age of recruitment into the armed forces was 18 (Section 28), and amending the Sierra Leone Armed Forces Act of 1961 to this effect. 

In its declaration on ratifying the Optional Protocol, Sierra Leone had stated that there was no compulsory recruitment into the armed forces and that recruitment was exclusively on a voluntary basis.

There were reports that, in 2005, children in Sierra Leone were being recruited with a view to fighting in Liberia. In July near Kaliahun in eastern Sierra Leone men from Liberia were aiming to recruit children for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and in August Liberian LURD sympathizers were seeking to recruit children allegedly to work in diamond mines in Liberia as a cover for a recruitment strategy.10 In August 2005 two boys claimed that they had escaped from a recruitment camp in Liberia.11 In September 2005, cases of children who went to Liberia to sell goods but never came back were also documented in the Kaliahun district.

The Lomé Peace Agreement had explicitly provided that the special needs of children should be addressed in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process. According to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there were no accurate statistics for the number of children associated with the fighting forces during the conflict. Estimates by different organizations including UNICEF, UNAMSIL, and local agencies ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 depending on the criteria used.13 The national body responsible for the DDR program, the National Committee for Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (NCDRR) confirmed to the Commission that more than 6,774 children entered the DDR program. Of these, 3,710 had been with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), 2,026 with the pro-government Civil Defence Forces (CDF), 471 with the Sierra Leone Army and 427 with the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC); 144 were with other factions or non-affiliated.

It was estimated that about 30 per cent of child soldiers in the conflict were girls, but only 8 per cent (513) of the former child soldiers in the DDR program were female. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified this failure to address the needs of girl soldiers as the most glaring problem in the DDR program, and in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1314 of August 2000 on children and armed conflict, which called for special attention to be given to the needs of girls in the wake of conflict, including in DDR programs. Gender had been given scant regard in the planning of the DDR program, which did not take into account the gender-specific roles played by girls and the complexity of their situations. One reason for the lack of participation of girls in the DDR program was that most of them had been considered as camp followers and not as combatants in their own right. In fact, they had played many roles in the conflict, as porters, fighters and “bush wives” held in sexual slavery by their captors. Some commanders to whom the girls had been attached as “bush wives” refused to allow them to participate in the DDR program. Other girls refused to participate for fear of stigmatization. 

UNICEF set up the “Girls Left Behind Project” to provide assistance to such girls. In the Kono, Bombali and Port Loko districts where the project was operated by UNICEF’s non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, by the time it closed in February 2005 over 1,000 girls had been identified who had not gone through the DDR process, and 714 girls had been provided with services. Some similar projects were set up by NGOs.16 One local NGO continued to work with girls without focusing exclusively on girls formerly associated with the fighting forces, but involving other girls affected by the conflict, including commercial sex workers.

Demobilized children under 15 were sent to Interim Care Centres (ICCs) under the care of UNICEF and child protection agencies, after which they were reunited with their families or went to foster families, and entered education projects. Those aged 15–17 could go into NCDRR training and employment programs for up to nine months, at the end of which they received a start-up kit. However, in many cases they were unable to make effective use of their training because of the weakness of the economy, and start-up kits on their own were not enough to start a sustainable business. To that extent the DDR program had not taken economic realities into account and had given insufficient consideration to sustainability.18 The levels of economic deprivation reportedly were a factor in some Sierra Leone former combatants, including former child soldiers, returning to fighting in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.

 Here's are kids point of view of the war :

'An army recruitment unit arrived at my village and demanded two new recruits. Those who could not pay 3000 kyats had to join the army.'

-Zaw Tun, 15
Burmese ex-army soldier 

'I was so afraid of dying. But my friends warned me if the rebel commanders detected any fear in me they would kill me. 
So I had to pretend to be brave.'

-Charles, 12
Rwandan refugee 

When I get older, 
I will organise a gang and seek my father's revenge.' 

-Asif, 12
Afghan refugee, 

'Two hundred gone, we pray that war in our country will stop quickly. 

We also pray for their souls to rest in peace.'

-Charlie, 10
Sudanese refugee 

'I just want to go home and be with my family.'

-Christopher, 12

'They abducted me but still they went ahead to kill my mother and father that night.'

-Richard, 12
Rwandan refugee 

'I joined the army when I was young (at 15) without thinking much. I admired soldiers, their guns and crisp, neat uniforms. 

I just wanted to fight the way they did in the movies and so I joined the army.'

-Htay, 21
Burmese ex-army soldier

In the RUF camps in Sierra Leone, the traumatised children are held and 'trained' usually for about two or three months.

The children are told
they will be killed if they disobey orders or try to escape.

Often they undergo a brutal initiation and have to kill or maim those who have attempted to flee.  

'If you cry again 
we'll kill you'
Abu's story

'When we are dancing we shoot'
David's juju song
In the Kamajors the children are initiated into 'secret societies'.
By following the rules of these 'societies' the boys are told that they will gain magical powers. 

They come to believe that the 'juju' (magic) will protect them and stop the enemy bullets.








There are an estimated 300,000 Child Soldiers around the world , ever year the number gowes up. As many childern are recruited for use in active combat.In the civil war in Sierra Leone children fight for both the rebels - the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the pro-government local militia, the Kamajors. The Kamajors do much of the front-line fighting for the government and the West African peace-keeping force, ECOMOG. Often after the RUF attacks a village they abduct the surviving children. The children, many of whom have seen their parents slaughtered, are then removed to special camps. Those children who escape often join the Kamajors who give them shelter and food.For the last 50 years there has been conflict in Burma between the government and rebel ethnic minorities. 15-year-old Zaw Tun fought in the Burmese army. The development of lighter weapons - such as the AK47 - means that boys as young as eight can be armed.The smallest boys are placed closest to the enemy. In war, they are said to be fearless. Children are often less demanding soldiers than adults. They are cheaper to keep as they eat less and are easier to manipulate.Both sides believe the unpredictability of small children makes them better fighters. Some are sent into battle high on drugs to give them courage.
The Burmese military regime also uses children in combat. The children work as slave labourers, carrying army supplies or working on government construction projects.