TUESDAY
January 4, 2000
volume 11, no. 2
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
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JUBILEE ENABLES CHILD SOLDIERS TO BE FREED FROM SIERRA LEONE WAR
Church Buys Freedom of Children Recruited by Force
    VATICAN CITY, JAN 2 (ZENIT).- Among the 100,000 or so children and youth who took part in this morning's Jubilee celebrations with the Pope in St. Peter's Square, there were ten boys from Sierra Leone who "played" with real rifles during their childhood. They are in Rome representing the hundreds of child soldiers that the Church has freed in that country, which has been lacerated by one of the longest armed conflicts in Africa.

    The Vatican Jubilee Committee has joined forces with Bishop Sergio Biguzzi of Makeni, who is determined to buy the freedom of the young recruits. Throughout the world, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, there are some 300,000 soldiers under age 18. The freedom of each can be purchased for about $100. On the eve of the Children's Jubilee, the Church has launched a worldwide campaign to try to rescue the greatest possible number of child soldiers.

    These boys are very much in demand, both by guerrillas as well as regular armies in countries in conflict. Their strength lies precisely in their vulnerability. It is very easy to intoxicate them with drugs and alcohol to turn them into fighting machines, more courageous than common soldiers.

    Bishop Biguzzi, who himself was held hostage by guerrillas a few months ago, spoke about the situation these boys have experienced and about the Church's initiatives in Sierra Leone to give the children in this tormented African country a future. "All experiences are painful, as they have been taken from their families against their own and their relatives' wills. Obviously, the conditions were different with each case, as they have been with various guerrilla groups. Some suffered more than others. Now that they have been freed from the war and welcomed by Caritas centers, we try to help them to live a normal life. For the time being, we have been reintegrating them in the schools. Those who are older are beginning to learn a trade. We try to contact their families, as they often don't know where they are. Needless to say, the families are also ignorant of the children's whereabouts. We then insure that the family can take their child in, and if possible we follow up by helping the respective families and by listening to the boys. If for some reason we are unable to reintegrate them into the family, they remain in the center for a period of time for shelter and rehabilitation."

    The faces of these boys are marked by the terror that only acute violence can elicit. The Church in Sierra Leone hopes that the Jubilee will renew their hope. "We have brought them to Rome for this very reason. Italian Catholic Action gave them the assistance needed to travel. For them and their friends, this trip is a moment of rest. When they return, they will be able to tell many stories, especially about the affection they have received here in Rome. This can give them new hope and the desire to live a normal life," Bishop Biguzzi said.

    For this tragedy of the forceful recruitment of thousands of children to stop, pressure must be exerted on governments and international authorities who are responsible to halt the arms trade, explained the Bishop. "Undoubtedly, it is the first step that must be taken. Moreover, it is important to undertake the task of sensitizing local governments so that national resources will not be used to purchase arms in the name of national defense. This is an argument that becomes an excuse to silence those who disagree with the official line," Bishop Biguzzi concluded. ZE00010201

          

January 4, 2000
volume 11, no. 2
NEWS & VIEWS

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