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Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone and the Problems of Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration into Society: Some Lessons for Social Workers in War‐torn Societies

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Between March 1991 and February 2002 Sierra Leone was engulfed in a bloody and protracted civil war in which tens of thousands of people were killed, many more injured, over half of the population displaced and millions of pounds worth of property destroyed. Much of the violence unleashed, particularly on the civilian population, was the work of child soldiers. The phenomenon of child soldiers raises many issues of children's well-being, although this phenomenon is not unique to Africa. In this paper, I briefly analyse the reasons for and the nature of the conflict, in particular the social forces which impelled children to join social movements challenging for state hegemony. I focus on how peripheral capitalism has impacted on the Sierra Leonean family and how the ensuing political and economic crises have left Sierra Leonean children with little security, forcing them to turn to family surrogates (social movements) for protection. I examine the processes of demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration of former child combatants and some of the problems and challenges to social work and social workers working with traumatised children from war ravaged communities in African nations. I suggest that Tonnies' dichotomy between ‘Gemeinschaft' and ‘Gesellschaft' offers a useful framework for social work education in this context.
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Keywords: Child Soldiers; Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft; Social Movements; Trauma

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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