The Irish government has pledged $62,000 (€ 50,000) for the support and reintegration of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone.
Making the announcement during his visit to Sierra Leone, Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello said the funding through the Irish Aid programme would be given over the next two years.
Minister Costello said: “During the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, it is estimated that 10,000 children were forcibly recruited to fight. These children were often given drugs and forced to commit atrocities, while girls were systematically sexually abused. Many of these children were not reunited with their families after the war, or were rejected by their communities when the war ended.
“For these young people who have suffered terribly, the opportunity to access trauma counselling and to learn vocational skills is critical.
“Today I saw how Caritas’ programme is working to rehabilitate and re-integrate former child soldiers when I visited a welder’s shop, a tailoring service, and a restaurant, all run by entrepreneurs trained by Caritas during and after the war,” Costello said.
Caritas is an NGO that helps farmers to increase productivity through agricultural training and food processing and it also helps young people and women to develop vocational skills.
According to the charity, 70 percent of the population lives on less than US$2 per day, and there are problems of high unemployment, food insecurity, and poor health care.
“Many of these children were not reunited with their families after the war, or were rejected by their communities when the war ended,” Costello said.
“Through Ireland’s contribution to the national school feeding programme, more than 118,000 students – half of whom are girls – now receive a daily school meal,” Costello said.
“In addition, 650 tonnes of the food that Sierra Leonean school children are eating this year will all be purchased from local farmers in the region, thus contributing to their livelihoods.”
Minister Costello also visited St. Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired in Makeni where he saw a school-feeding programme, implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP) and supported by Irish Aid.