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Friday, October 22, 1999 Published at 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK

World: Africa

Children 'must not be let down'

The following are excerpts from the keynote address to the UN Security Council by Olara Otunnu, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict:

The children of Sierra Leone have suffered beyond belief in this war.

Sierra Leone
Many children have been deliberately maimed, with their limbs brutally cut off.

Indeed, a whole new community of persons without limbs has suddenly emerged as a result of this diabolical practice.

[ image: Olara Ottunu: Children must not be short changed]
Olara Ottunu: Children must not be short changed
The youngest child I met during my recent visit is now 10 months old; he had his leg cut off by the rebels when he was barely two months old.

These and other atrocities were not the result of mass violence or inter-communal upheavals along ethnic or religious lines.

Rather, it was the work of a small segment of the population - well-armed, deeply alienated and bitter - unleashing organised and indiscriminate terror on the rest of society.


In the month of January 1999 alone, over 4,000 children were abducted during the rebel incursion into Freetown.

[ image: Thousands of children were abducted]
Thousands of children were abducted
It is estimated that 60% of abducted children are girls, the vast majority of whom have been sexually abused. This is one of the most painful and traumatic legacies of the war.

In addition, thousands of children have been serving as child soldiers in the three main fighting groups - the RUF, AFRC and CDF.

Disarmament and demobilisation of combatants is at the heart of the Lome peace process, and within that critical process the demobilisation and social reintegration of children needs special attention.

Over three million Sierra Leoneans - two thirds of the total population, 60% of them children - have been displaced by war within and outside their country.

Some 10,000 children are estimated to have been separated from their parents as a result of the war, and there are more than 3,000 street children in the capital Freetown alone, many suffering from serious psychosocial trauma.

'Extraordinary circumstances'

These are extraordinary circumstances requiring special measures.

The rehabilitation of services that benefit children - especially educational and medical facilities - should constitute a clear priority in the post-conflict recovery programme.

Children must not be short-changed during this critical period of healing and rebuilding.

There is an urgent need to establish a National Commission for Children, to ensure that their protection and welfare will be a central concern in the aftermath of the war, and that this will be reflected in national priority setting, policy making and resource allocation.

In conclusion, I urge the former rebel leadership to level with the children of Sierra Leone and acknowledge fully their role in the horrific atrocities committed during the war.

Finally, I address a particular appeal to the international community not to let down the children of Sierra Leone by again adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

The Lome Agreement is a fragile peace that requires a lot of local and international support for its implementation and consolidation.

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