Select Committee on International Development Memoranda

Memorandum submitted by Plan UK

Children and Young People in Peace Building and Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Sierra Leone

"Let us be the future nation builders and positive leaders of Sierra Leone." Moses, aged 14.

"Come and work with the children, work with the young people, because we are the future of Sierra Leone. The future of this country lies on us." Abu Bakrr, aged 19.


The Sierra Leone war will be remembered for the central role played by children both as victims and perpetrators of violence. Since 2002, children and young people have been important contributors to the processes of peace building and post conflict reconstruction. Children and young people are a significant proportion of Sierra Leone's population - 49% of the population is under 18 and approximately 55% of the population is aged 15 - 35. Life expectancy is one of the lowest at 41 years. As such, their continued and developing participation in the long-term development of their country is key to maintaining peace in Sierra Leone. The UK Government should continue its commitment for Sierra Leone and other post conflict contexts by supporting a child and youth centred agenda for development.


1.  Plan is an international child centred development organisation committed to promoting the rights of children worldwide. We operate in 46 of the world's poorest countries. Our programme in Sierra Leone is one of our longest established in Africa - Plan has worked there for 30 years. Plan UK welcomes the opportunity to present evidence from the children of Sierra Leone on peace building and post conflict reconstruction.

2.  The Children's Forum Network is a Sierra Leonean child led advocacy network, which was established in 2000. The network works through schools and local children's clubs across Sierra Leone advocating for and raising awareness of children's rights. The Children's Forum Network has contributed to several national consultations on post-conflict reconstruction, processes for the reintegration of former child soldiers, the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and consultations on the development of Sierra Leone's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.

3.  This evidence was gathered at a three-day workshop of the Children's Forum Network held in Freetown between 9 and 12 January 2006, organised and facilitated by Plan UK. Twenty children took part in discussions leading to the evidence contained herein[97]. Included as supplementary evidence is a ten-minute film from the children, a transcript of which is attached as an Appendix.

4.  Children constitute an estimated 52% of the population in developing countries. They can be both victims and perpetrators in conflict. Plan believes that concentrating on children and young people in peace building and post-conflict development is an efficient and necessary strategy. The success of calling for and abiding by ceasefires in the middle of conflicts across the world in order to immunise children demonstrates the possibilities of building consensus and group action around the needs of children in conflict and post-conflict settings.

Impact of the Sierra Leone Civil War on Children and Young People

5.  The details of Sierra Leone's ten-year civil war, which officially ended in January 2002, are well documented. What is notable, however, is the involvement of children both as perpetrators and victims of violence during the war. Soon after the conflict started in 1991, it became evident that both the rebel and government forces were recruiting children into their ranks. Thousands of children were captured by rebel troops of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to serve as soldiers, cooks, porters and 'wives' of the adult fighters. In the national disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DRR) programme, 6845 child soldiers were demobilised[98].

6.  The war had an immense impact on the children and young people of Sierra Leone. All of the children involved in preparing this evidence witnessed war-related atrocities firsthand. These included shootings, amputations and mutilation, physical and sexual abuse of women, and destruction of property. Some were themselves captured by RUF troops. All experienced disruption of their education, some for several years at a time, as large numbers of Sierra Leoneans fled their homes.

7.  "[During the war], we young people were used and abused by adults…which affected young people psychologically, socially and physically. Psychologically, young people witnessed negative things. They are now unable to move on from what happened and always remember the terrible things that happened during the war. [The war] stopped many young people's education and so many young people lost the people who usually take care of their education [like their parents]. Physically, young people were used during the war [as soldiers]. Socially, the war made young people lose many of their close friends[99]."

8.  Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which concluded in June 2004, and the Special Court, which is currently hearing evidence, were important processes for national healing and conflict resolution. Children played an important role in national healing processes in the immediate aftermath of the war. They were invited to give evidence in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a child-friendly version of the document has been produced.

Building Peace and Security in Sierra Leone

9.  Sierra Leone is one of the least developed countries in the world according to all indicators and is ranked 176 out of 177 countries - only Niger is ranked lower - in the UN's Human Development Index[100]. Concerns remain both inside and outside of Sierra Leone for the country's long-term security and lasting peace. "Today, while humanitarian relief has alleviated the most suffering, many of the causes the civil war are still evident (e.g. poverty, corruption, poor governance, injustice[101]." The Children's Forum Network expressed a strong sense that peace and security may not be maintained under such conditions and the children spoke of living with a daily fear of a return to the instability of war.

10.  It is clear that without increased investment in conflict prevention, countries like Sierra Leone will not make the rapid acceleration in development that its people seek. Investing in development is itself an investment in peace and security, but there is much more that should be done directly to strengthen conflict prevention.[102] There was a strong desire from the Children's Forum Network to see greater action to prevent the re-emergence of violent conflict in Sierra Leone, including direct investment in the needs of young people and in their continued empowerment.

11.  As Sierra Leone moves beyond the immediate post conflict period, a key concern of the Children's Forum Network is that long-term and predictable donor support does not end. They welcomed the fact the UK government has worked to commit to this kind of support, providing £120 million in direct budget and other support over a three-year period 2004 to 2006. This follows a three-year commitment of £104 million from 2001 to 2003[103].

Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Poverty Reduction

12.  The Children's Forum Network was concerned that Sierra Leone as a nation needs to move on and away from the war. The children were in agreement that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an important contribution to this process. They also welcomed their involvement in and the focus on children and young people's priorities in Sierra Leone's first Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, published in May 2005. The Children's Forum Network successfully lobbied for a Children's Act, which enshrines the principles and rights of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is now keen for Sierra Leone's Children's Act to be given Presidential Assent.

13.  The Children's Forum Network identified three areas that they would like the Sierra Leonean government, civil society and communities, and donor governments to focus their attention on.

Youth Employment and Empowerment

14.  Through the work of the Children's Forum Network itself, the voices of children have remained part of recent national processes in Sierra Leone's post conflict era, leading to important commitments such as the Children's Act. However, a major concern cited by the children is the growing disenfranchisement of young people - officially defined as people aged 15 to 35[104]. It is estimated that 55% of the population is between 15 and 35 years old.[105] Life expectancy is low at 41 years[106]. The most recent official data available stated that young adults aged 15-24 are among the poorest of the poor[107]. Although the Sierra Leonean government recently revised its National Youth Policy, there has been little obvious investment in this majority of the Sierra Leonean population.

15.  Internal displacement in Sierra Leone during the civil war has meant large numbers of young people living in Freetown and other urban centres. There are concerns about low employment rates, a lack of training and education opportunities for young people, and some evidence of the continued attractiveness of joining fighting forces across the West Africa region. The Children's Forum Network recognised the impact this is having on the esteem and ultimately the opportunities available to young people in Sierra Leone[108]. The children and young people involved in the workshop consistently recommended that job creation, and investment in training and education become a clear priority for government, civil society and non-governmental organisations[109].

Good Governance

16.  "Without justice, there will be no peace." Bamine, aged 16. As a country emerging from war, trust in politicians, political structures and the justice system remains low in Sierra Leone. Corruption is widespread at all levels. The Children's Forum Network discussed ways of tackling corruption and a system of good governance. They support anti-corruption measures, and stress that these should not only remain independent of government but should include representation of young people.

17.  The Children's Forum Network is clear that through children and particularly young people's active participation as citizens, models of good governance and leadership can be developed. As such, they are keen to see the Children's Act receive Presidential Assent. Through building local constituencies of children and young people aware of their rights and of their responsibilities as citizens and future leaders, models of good governance can be developed through to national level.

18.  In Plan's experience, children and young people are playing an increasingly active role in governance at all levels around the world. These range from Children's Parliaments to local children's clubs with an active advocacy agenda to the model of Child-Friendly Barangays/Villages in the Philippines, where children's needs and rights are central to village level planning and development. As a result, children have also become part of regional and national level structures in the Philippines. As children will themselves go on to become political leaders and citizens, support is essential for developing good governance models with children, particularly through local government and particularly in Africa, a continent where 50.8% of the population is aged under 18[110].

Education and Basic Services

19.  Although the Sierra Leonean government abolished primary school fees in 1999, an estimated 375,000 children of primary school age are not in school. In 2001, the government waived national examination fees and basic education was made compulsory in 2003. However, 30% of the population remains illiterate. Enrolment rates and retention of girls in schools lags behind boys, especially in secondary schools. [111]

20.  The Children's Forum Network recognised and acknowledged efforts being made to expand formal, particularly primary education, in Sierra Leone. However, the children were increasingly concerned about the quality of the education they and their counterparts are receiving. Primary school enrolment has increased to over 1 million[112], but has resulted in a system unable to cope. The children were keen to point out that teacher motivation and skill levels are low because of poor salaries, intermittent receipt of salaries, and lack of training.

21.  They recommend that investment in teaching staff be a clear priority. The abolition of school fees should be extended to secondary schools and additional support is needed for girls, particularly in Northern Sierra Leone. The daily struggle of their guardians to find the hidden costs of sending children to school was also highlighted[113]. A package of social protection measures for the most vulnerable could include support towards these hidden costs[114].

22.  Investment so far has been clearly in the formal education sector. The Children's Forum Network identified the need for street children, orphans and other vulnerable children to have access to informal education. Children and young people who have completed primary education and are unable to continue in the formal sector, require access to vocational training and informal learning.

23.  The Children's Forum Network identified key basic services requiring increased investment - health care provision, and water and sanitation. There is a particular need for investment in basic health care provision in rural areas, and in maternal and child health. They were concerned about potential impact of HIV and AIDS and discussed the need for greater awareness and prevention measures in Sierra Leone. HIV and AIDS emerged as a key factor in growing violent crime and susceptibility to joining rebel movements in Sierra Leone[115], although figures on national infection rates are unclear at present.

Child and Youth Centred Development

24.  Poverty has a particular and immediate effect on children. Long-term poverty reduction itself begins with children[116]. The Sierra Leone Government produced its first Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) in 2005.[117] Children contributed to the consultation process towards the development of the PRSP. There is general agreement that the perspectives, input and involvement of children and young people in processes like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme and development of the PRSP in Sierra Leone was important and necessary.

25.  A child and youth centred agenda for Sierra Leone's development is a real opportunity for the Sierra Leonean government and donor governments, such as the UK, to follow through on the involvement of and commitments made to children in Sierra Leone over the past five years. Such an agenda is the only way to fully engage Sierra Leone's youth and thus ensure a better chance of building peace and a sustainable development programme.

26.  Such an agenda should include:

- National budget allocation and tracking for children and young people's needs;

- Increased investment in basic services particularly education, health, and water and sanitation;

- Investment in opportunities for young people including training, education and employment;

- Creation of both formal and informal spaces for children and young people to be consulted and involved in decision-making; and

- A social protection package for the most vulnerable including child-headed households, street children and those made homeless during the war.


The Children's Forum Network makes the following recommendations to the UK Government:

27.  The UK Government should ensure that its policy[118] to support post-conflict reconstruction includes a focus on youth employment and empowerment within a wider poverty reduction framework. This is particularly important in the context of the African continent. Evidence from Sierra Leone demonstrates the importance of engaging with and supporting this important demographic.

28.  The UK government should make a clear policy commitment to develop a framework for supporting the most vulnerable through social protection packages in post-conflict settings.

29.  The UK Government should use its influence to ensure that young people are engaged in anti-corruption processes in Sierra Leone, to which it has already provided support.

30.   DFID should support children's key priorities in Sierra Leone - youth employment, strengthening civil society in order to hold government accountable and a social protection package.

31.  The UK Government should support the Sierra Leonean Government to:

- Develop a child and youth centred agenda for development out of its PRSP;

- Provide free, high quality education and vocational training by investing in training, teaching material and the (re)construction of schools and vocational training centres;

- Develop employment opportunities with a particular focus on young people, invest in and encourage new industries and the agricultural sector, and create investment links with the Sierra Leonean Diaspora in the UK[119]; and

- Invest in basic healthcare provision, particularly in rural areas.

The Children's Forum Network makes the following recommendations to the International Development Select Committee:

1.  The International Development Select Committee should meet with a delegation from the Children's Forum Network when Committee members visit Freetown.

2.  The International Development Select Committee should enquire of its Parliamentary counterparts in Sierra Leone of progress towards Presidential Assent of the Children's Act.

January 2006

97   The workshop's participants were: Rosaline (16), Henry (16), Christiana (17), Joseph (17), Josephine (12), Janet (13), John (11), Ishmael (8), Easterline (12), Ibrahim (16), Bamine (16), Charles (17), Moses (13), Aminata (12), Dennis (17), (Desmond (11), Isata (10), Fatmata (8), Mohamed (18), Elkanah (17). The workshop was facilitated by Abu Bakr Messeh (19). Back

98   UNICEF, 2004, Post Conflict Sierra Leone: An Analytical review of the Situation of Children and UNICEF's ResponseBack

99   The words of Josephine, aged 12, during Children and Young People in Peace Building and Post Conflict Reconstruction in Sierra Leone workshop, Freetown, January 2006 Back

100   UNDP, 2004, Human Development Index.  Back

101   DFID, 2004, Supporting Security, Justice, and Development. Back

102   Commission for Africa, 2004, Our Common Interest: Report of the Commission for Africa.  Back

103   DFID, 2004, Country Assistance Plan: Sierra LeoneBack

104   Government of Sierra Leone, 2004, National Youth PolicyBack

105   UNICEF, 2004, Ibid.  Back

106   UNICEF, 2005, State of the World's Children 2006. Back

107   Government of Sierra Leone, 2004. Ibid. Back

108   Young men are largely labelled as 'yootman', a negative term meaning an unemployed young man who engages in illegal activities such as drug selling and robbery to survive. Back

109   The Sierra Leonean Government's current youth policy states the following as priorities: job creation opportunities; skills training; information and sensitisation; community development projects; Presidential Award for Excellence and youth consultation and participation. Back

110   UNICEF, 2005, Ibid. Back

111   UNICEF, 2004, Ibid.  Back

112   UNICEF, 2004, Ibid. Back

113   These costs include uniforms, school material, ad hoc fees to teachers and meals. Back

114   Plan UK, 2005, Towards Ending Child Poverty: Social Protection MeasuresBack

115   Prime Minister's Strategy Unit Background Paper, 2005, Countries at Risk of Instability: Future Risks of Instability. Back

116   UNICEF, 2000, Poverty Reduction Begins with Children. Back

117   Government of Sierra Leone, 2005, Sierra Leone Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Back

118   DFID, 2005, Fighting Poverty to Build a Safer World: A Strategy for Security and Development. Back

119   The Foreign and Commonwealth Office estimates that over 60,000 Sierra Leoneans live in the UK. Back

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