Aid Agencies Help to Rid Child Soldiers of War's Scars ; Child Protection Groups in Sierra Leone Believe That Thousands of Children Were Branded by Rebel Armies

Article excerpt

BAFODIA VILLAGE, SIERRA LEONE

It's a hot evening in Bafodia village. A handful of children sit around the Mango trees, drenched in sweat, half-heartedly humming tunes as they slap away the mosquitoes.

All of them are shirtless in the heat, except two. Kaiadicu Kamara wears a turtleneck. Alfred Mansaray itches at his wool sweater. They are hiding the scars of war, scars which inflict a special kind of shame.

During Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year civil war, which left 50,000 people dead and countless maimed, some 5,000 children were abducted into service by the rebel armies. With last year's cease-fire and waves of rebels surrendering weapons, aid workers are seeing first- hand that some of the former child soldiers were branded by the rebel army.

Using razors, broken glass, knives, an odd iron or needle, rebel groups would carve "RUF," the initials of the Revolutionary United Front, or other groups, onto the chests, arms, and even foreheads of the children - some as young as 9 - to make sure they wouldn't escape.

Rabih Torbay, West Africa director of the L.A.-based International Medical Corps (IMC), first heard about these brandings from one of the nurses working for his agency in Sierra Leone. …