Sierra Leone

The situation of the youth in Sierra Leone 

 The lack of training and employment prospects for young people play an important role in Sierra Leone. Also the ruling and land owning classes - especially at a village level - are found to have failed or to have been unwilling to assist those who were vulnerable and needed help and to integrate them in society. The young people subsequently unleashed their frustrations on society in an extremely violent manner in the form of a gruesome war.

After the disarmament and during the reintegration of the former soldiers, many millions of dollars have been spent on reintegration projects, mainly in the form of providing vocational training. Yet in Sierra Leone where the majority of the population earns its income from farming, the many newly-qualified carpenters and tailors could find no work.

The majority of ex-soldiers had to return to their villages. Without access to land or reforms in the local jurisprudence, they remained vulnerable to exploitation by the local ruling elite. Others left for the diamond fields. Yet as they could scarcely sell their skills, they ended up working for subsistence wages in the mines. The problems which led to the outbreak of the horrendous war in Sierra Leone have yet to be resolved.

Over the years there has been a lack of government investment in education, youth development and job creation for young men and women. As a result there are a lack of opportunities for young people. Young people played a central role in Sierra Leone’s brutal conflict as both fighters and civilian casualties. Marginalised youth and the relative ease with which the various armed factions recruited them fed on a longstanding crisis of blocked education and employment opportunities for young people. Child soldiers were recruited by all groups: the Sierra Leone Army (SLA), the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Kamajors /Civil Defence Forces (CDF). Boys and girls were reportedly the main victims of RUF abductions, rape, torture, killings, forced labour and combat training. In RUF camps, the drugging of youths to desensitise them was common.

War brought an end to formal education for most young girls and boys in Sierra Leone. Since the early 1990s, many Sierra Leonean youths from poorer rural households have grown up knowing only war and without ever going to school. Deprived of education and training opportunities, health care and incomegenerating activities, their lives have thus far been ones of poverty, dependency, dislocation and family separation. This has had a dire effect on the entire country. A huge task lies ahead for Sierra Leoneans to transform their severe youth crisis into an opportunity for post-conflict growth and stability. It must be remembered that war exacerbated, rather than created, Sierra Leone’s youth crisis. One of the greatest causes identified is the country’s persistent political, social and economic decline, brought on by decades of ill-conceived fiscal policies, mismanagement, corruption and political instability. The magnitude of this youth crisis, if ignored, is likely to impede efforts for a lasting peace and increase the country’s social, political and economic instability. The outbreak of armed conflict in neighbouring Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire poses further dangers, as disaffected young people and ex-combatants will be much more likely to migrate and enlist as mercenary fighters there. Engaging with young people constructively and offering them positive opportunities is therefore crucial.

School girls selling

Means of transport

Street kids

Golden Beaches