Former child soldiers reunite with families in Sierra Leone, UN mission reports

Former child soldiers reunite with families in Sierra Leone, UN mission reports

More than a dozen former child soldiers have been reunited with their families in a northern town in Sierra Leone, according to the United Nations Mission in the country (UNAMSIL), which transported the children to their home district.

In an emotionally charged ceremony held on Monday in the town of Kabala, in Koinadugu District, mothers wept and hugged their children, some of whom couldn't recognize their parents, as local musicians drummed and played traditional music.

A total of 76 children, whose families had been traced to the district, were flown to Kabala in helicopters provided by UNAMSIL. Most of the children were demobilized last year and had been moved to Lungi and Port Loko when the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) attacked Lunsar and Makeni in May 2000. They had been under the care of Caritas-Makeni, a local children protection agency, where they received education, counselling and other psycho-social services, or with foster parents.

The recent disarmament of Koinadugu District enabled Caritas to trace the children's families, the UN Mission said.

Fifteen child ex-combatants were reunited with their families, and the process is expected to continue for a few more days. According to UNAMSIL's Child Protection Adviser, Bituin Gonzales, more families are expected to come from different chiefdoms within the district to identify their children. Some of the children are meeting their families and relatives for the first time in more than five years.