|© AP Photo/Prinsloo|
|Sudanese refugees living in Chad at a protest last year condemning the use of child soldiers in armed conflict in the region.|
By Blue Chevigny
NEW YORK, 11 May 2007 – UNICEF and the Government of Chad signed an accord this week to work to demobilize child soldiers throughout the country.
The agreement was signed on 9 May by UNICEF Representative in Chad Stephen Adkisson and Chad’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Djidda Moussa Outman. It is a follow-up to Chad’s commitment in February at the ‘Free Children from War’ conference held in Paris and organized by UNICEF and the French Government.
That conference resulted in the Paris Principles, a multilateral agreement to end the use of children in armed forces or groups around the world. The new accord in Chad is seen as an important step toward putting the principles into practice.
“It was a strong demonstration of will on the part of the Chadian Government to ensure that all children under the age of 18 will be removed from any kind of military service,” Mr. Adkisson told UNICEF Radio.
|© UNICEF Chad/2007/Gaya|
|Young Sudanese refugees at Djabal Camp in Chad; recruitment of child soldiers often takes place in such camps.|
Reintegration into society
The use of child soldiers is no small problem in Chad. “There is rebel conflict in the eastern part of country, there are Sudanese rebels who have been known to use children as soldiers and there are local militias who are arming themselves and are known to be recruiting children for militia activities,” Mr. Adkisson explained.
Even approximate figures on the number of children involved in military activity in Chad are difficult to determine. UNICEF is the lead organization working with the government to properly identify, demobilize and reintegrate these children into society.
Some 300 child soldiers were identified less than a week ago in the Guera region of Chad. Mr. Adkisson was there and had an opportunity to talk to a large group of the children. “They expressed a strong interest in coming out of the military and joining civil society,” he reported.
Under the accord, UNICEF will also help the government prevent further recruitment of children into armed forces and groups. And the demobilization initiative will repatriate Sudanese refugee children who have been recruited into conflict in Chad.
|© UNICEF Chad/2007/Gaya|
|Children get out of school in the Guera region of Chad, where 300 child soldiers were recently identified.|
Easing the transition
“The demobilization of child soldiers is complicated and requires sometimes several years of action, intervention and support,” said Mr. Adkisson.
“Traditionally, one would want to see these children reintegrated with their families,” he continued. “But the children in Chad come from areas that are still not secure – so that the ideal approach for these children is to establish transition centres where they can receive initial medical treatment, initial psychological and social support, and begin to participate in schooling.”
While the challenges ahead are great, the tide is turning toward hope on the issue of child soldiers in Chad, where the use of children in armed conflict was not even officially acknowledged until quite recently.
“It’s a big, big, big change,” said Mr. Adkisson. “It’s not just the signing of the accord; it’s not just our first actions with these first children. It’s that the government has invited us to participate in the exercise of drawing children out of the military. It’s that government is committed to make sure that children are not in military service of any kind.”
11 May 2007:
UNICEF Representative in Chad Stephen Adkisson speaks to UNICEF Radio about the country’s recent agreement on the demobilization of child soldiers.