High Hopes, Grim Reality: Reintegration and the Education of Former Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone
Brewer, Stephanie E.
de la Soudière, Marie
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CitationBetancourt, Theresa S., Stephanie Simmons, Ivelina Borisova, Stephanie E. Brewer, Uzo Iweala, and Marie de la Soudière. 2008. “High Hopes, Grim Reality: Reintegration and the Education of Former Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone.” Comparative Education Review 52 (4) (November): 565–587. doi:10.1086/591298.
AbstractCivil war broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991 and lasted more than a decade. During the conflict, both the national army and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group responsible for some of the worst atrocities during the conflict, abducted children from the villages they attacked and occupied. An estimated 15,000–22,000 children of all ages were taken from their families and forced to serve the military groups in a number of ways, from performing domestic chores and other military support roles to committing acts of violence (McKay and Mazurana 2004). Many were sexually abused and forced to use alcohol and drugs. At the end of the conflict, short-term disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs targeting children formerly associated with fighting and armed groups attempted to prepare children to return to their homes. In the medium to long term, however, true reintegration depends on former child soldiers having access to educational and training opportunities that will support them to achieve greater self-sufficiency and increased productivity within their communities. A number of studies have explored aspects of education relating to the reintegration of former child soldiers into their communities (Verhey 2001; Annan et al. 2006; Wessells 2006a). In particular, researchers have shown the negative effects of child soldiering on the educational and economic outcomes of former child soldiers. A few studies have discussed the relative benefits of education for war-affected youth during the postconflict phase (Santacruz and Arana 2002; Annan et al. 2006; Wessells 2006a). In Sierra Leone, available research focuses on the DDR process (Humphreys and Weinstein 2004, 2007) and has explored the relationship between DDR program participation and outcomes such as income-earning capacity, confidence in the democratic process, and acceptance within a sample of mainly adults (mean age of 31 years). Although the large survey sample included some youth as young as 14, educational opportunities and issues facing children and adolescents were not specifically examined. The complexity of providing education to former child soldiers in Sierra Leone and the potential challenges that may be associated with their return to school remain unexplored in the research. This study aims to fill this gap and presents the perspectives of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, their caregivers, and community members speaking to the role of education in their psychosocial adjustment and community reintegration following the end of the civil war. In this article we first examine the state of the Sierra Leonean educational system before and after the war and its role in the reintegration of former child soldiers. Next, we present the perspectives of former child soldiers, their caregivers, and community members on the role of education in reintegrating former child soldiers into society. We also examine the barriers they described in accessing educational and other training opportunities and in achieving their future goals.
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