Sierra Leone’s Youth: Improving Protections and Opportunities


Principal Investigator:
Theresa Betancourt, Assistant Professor of Child Health and Human Rights

Department of Global Health and Population/ Francois Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights

Dates of Research:
April 18, 2008 — August 31, 2008


The case of former child soldiers and war-affected youth in Sierra Leone represents a tragic failure of the transition from emergency response to sustainable service delivery and policy reform. During the country’s civil war, from 1991-2002, over 15,000 children were forced to fight on the frontlines or to serve the fighting forces in other capacities. Some of these children were successfully reintegrated after the war, but others continue to face social stigma, poor education and employment prospects, and serious mental health consequences. This study will complete a longitudinal study of a cohort of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone previously studied by the PI in 2002 and 2004. The longitudinal data collected will utilize surveys, in-depth qualitative interviews and focus groups. They will re-interview the original adolescent sample (who received DDR services), along with a comparison group of youth who reintegrated with no formal intervention and caregivers. In phase II the findings will be disseminated to key stakeholders in the social services for war affected youth. This study will add to earlier findings regarding risk and protective factors that can be targeted by interventions, showing for the first time what the long term effects of child soldiering are on young girls and boys. It will also provide the objective evidence necessary to reinvigorate policy initiatives aimed at serving war-affected youth in Sierra Leone, preventing further social and psychological problems caused by exposure to violence, including involvement in future conflict.