Church Rescues 86 Child-Soldiers in Sierra Leone

Last Year Sheltered 1,000 Minors

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MAKENI, Sierra Leone, MAY 14, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church has begun to shelter the first group of child-soldiers who, up until now, were fighting with the rebels in Sierra Leone´s civil war.



Bishop Giorgio Biguzzi of Makeni told the Misna missionary agency that 86 boys and girls were handed over Saturday to the diocesan Caritas by the Revolutionary United Front. Caritas had prepared a place for them in the St. Francis secondary school in Makeni.

The RUF command authorized Caritas personnel to visit the diocesan villages in order to accelerate the rescue of minors recruited by the anti-government movement of Sierra Leone.

"The handing over of the child-soldiers is a sign of hope for the country," Bishop Biguzzi said.

In some instances, the Church has purchased the liberty of children, at a cost of $50 to $100.

"I hope that the disarmament of the numerous armed bands spread all over Sierra Leone will take place as soon as possible," the bishop said. "Only then will it really be possible to speak about peace."

Bishop Biguzzi previously said that more than 5,000 children, some as young as 5, have been recruited by the government and the rebels. Another 5,000 children are used by the rebels as free labor. The girls are used as sex slaves, the bishop added.

Since the July 1999 armistice, the Church has worked to help return these young victims to normal living. Last year the Diocese of Makeni gave shelter, food, clothes and schooling to 1,000 children. It also freed 700 child-soldiers.