The children of the conflict
Sesay now has a higher diploma in peace studies. His younger sister, who went one way as he went the other, died.
Their stories are horrifying but not without hope. Hundreds of child soldiers have been through the hands of Caritas, and it continues to work at rebuilding shattered lives.
The Special Court of Sierra Leone in central Freetown was set up to try those warlords deemed to be most responsible for the most heinous crimes of the conflict. Today the building is silent and only scuttling gekkos disturb the peace of the prison yard.
All told, only eight people faced justice here. The last person to be sentenced was the former Liberian president Charles Taylor who last month was given 50 years in prison. He was actually tried in The Hague for security reasons but Sierra Leone is anxious people know the trial was under its jurisdiction.
Taylor is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison in the UK. The rest of those tried and convicted are serving their sentences in Rwanda. Last year they complained that they were being denied the food of their homeland so a chef from Sierra Leone was employed. The many thousands of victims they left in their wake are not afforded such luxuries.
Living with slavery and rape: A teenager's story
Sexual assault continues to be an enormous problem in Sierra Leone. Billboards all over Freetown proclaim: “Rape is a crime.”
That people need to be reminded of this fact is telling, as is the low level of prosecution. Accurate figures are impossible to find, but it is estimated that the police investigate fewer than 5 per cent of all rapes.
In the Women’s Hospital in Freetown a programme aimed at reaching out to the victims of assault has been set up and is being part-funded by Irish Aid.
Agnes Smith is a small, frightened girl who has just turned 17. An orphan, she lived until two years ago with an aunt in a town two hours’ drive from Freetown. A man approached her aunt and offered to bring her to the capital to school. Instead he took her to his house, where he lived with his five children, and put a knife to her throat and raped her, repeatedly. He also put her to work, cooking and cleaning for him and his children.
“After a week I rang my aunt and told her what was happening. I told her there was no school, but she just said she had her own husband to look after and that I was on my own now,” she says, tears streaming down her face.
She was raped every day for weeks. Then she was assaulted by the man’s 21-year-old son. He beat her senseless; when she complained to the man who had enslaved her, he “flogged me and threw all my belongings onto the street. I had nowhere to go.”
She went to the police, who conducted a half-hearted investigation. “They called to his house twice, but he was not there so they gave up,” she says.
The police did least tell her about the International Rescue Committee’s Rainbo Center. She visited and received extensive counselling. They also helped her contact her only living family member, a brother who had also moved to Freetown.
Today she is in school and likes it. She wants to be a social worker. “I lost my mother, but now I have many mothers. All the people in the centre are like my mothers.”