2009 Nepal: UNICEF Programme for the Reintegration of Children Associated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups in Nepal
Author: Maguire, Sarah. Institution: UNICEF. Partners: DFID, European Commission, Embassy of Japan, UNICEF
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UNICEF commissioned a ‘real-time’ evaluation of the programme to ensure that it was compliant with the Paris Principles and other international standards, to help guide the future of the programme and to identify main constraints and challenges that UNICEF and its partners may be facing.
The evaluation took place in December 2007and January 2008. The methodology consisted of a desk / documentary review and field work. The latter consisted of interviews, discussions and observations of the programme’s work in the field and in Kathmandu. People who were interviewed included children, parents, community members, teachers, implementing partners, political leaders and government representatives as well as members of the CAAFAG Working Group.
UNICEF commissioned this evaluation in order to: ensure that it is “doing the right thing” and “doing it the right way” – the two central questions for all monitoring and evaluation, to guide the programme for the rest of its duration and to capture lessons for other programmes in the region or further afield. In line with a growing consensus amongst programme managers and evaluators, it was considered useful to conduct the exercise during the currency of the programme rather than to conduct an ex-post-facto evaluation.
• To describe the release, return and reintegration process of children in Nepal, highlighting those areas that prove to limit access of children to services or reintegration support and those which facilitate the process;
• To evaluate the impact of the programme on the children in their transition to civilian life including a comparison between the CAAFAG and non-CAAFAG children in the communities;
• To evaluate the effectiveness of the various components of the programme;
• To evaluate the application of the major relevant international instruments, including the ‘Paris Guidelines/ Commitments’ and how they may guide the future of the programme;
• To evaluate the gender dimensions of the programme as it affects girls and boys respectively;
• Where relevant, to evaluate the social impact of the payment of stipends to children;
• To assess the respective contributions of UNICEF, the CAAFAG Working Group and the Resolution 1612 Task Force to advocacy that has affected the major decision-making for the implementation of the programme;
• To highlight the constraints faced by UNICEF and partners in implementing the programme;
• To assess the role of other partners including UNMIN, OHCHR, UNDP, WFP and UNFPA on the implementation of the programme and assess this collaboration;
• To assess the opportunities for increased or new collaboration with other organisations (international and national);
• To assess the extent to which donor investment has contributed to the achievement of the programme;
A single consultant, with support from UNICEF’s Child Protection Section, conducted the evaluation field work during January 2008. This was preceded by preparation and documentary review, including notes of CAAFAG Working Group review meetings, reports to donors and programme documents. An inception report (attached at Annex B) was prepared in consultation with the CAAFAG Working Group and formed the basis of an meeting with that group at the beginning of the evaluation. The field work was followed by a pair of meetings in Kathmandu in order to report back on and triangulate preliminary findings. These meetings were hosted by UNICEF senior management and invitees included the CAAFAG Working Group, the donor / diplomatic community, UN colleagues and representatives of the GoN and the CPN-M. An early draft of this report was shared with CAAFAG Working Group members for comment.
The methodology for the field work consisted mainly of discussions, interviews and observation with individuals and groups. The group discussions included Child Clubs, children doing training, groups of teachers, School Management Committees and paralegal groups.
In Kathmandu, discussions and interviews were conducted with UNICEF staff members, the CAAFAG Working Group, the donor / diplomatic community, UNICEF senior management and representatives of UNMIN including the SRSG and Child Protection Section. The consultant then travelled to field sites of Chitwan, Sindhuli, Makwanpur, Kapilvastu, Nawalparasi, Butwal and Surkhet. Interviews and discussions in the field locations focused on government representatives, political leaders, school teachers, school management committees as well as children (CAAFAG and others), parents, trainers and local implementing partners. The consultant was accompanied by UNICEF staff members and (for the Central region) a member of TPO.
Evaluation exercises are inevitably limited in their reach and scope; priorities have to be decided on. Time constraints meant that only the West and Central regions could be visited although discussions were held with the regional team for the Eastern and far Western regions. Other people’s time constraints also meant that some discussions could not take place. This is to be expected in a context of rapid change where many of the people to be interviewed are engaged in effecting those transitions.
The reintegration of children who have been associated with armed forces or armed groups has relatively recently been recognised as an area for discreet professional concern by child protection agencies. Many of the key questions which ask, for instance, “What is successful reintegration” or “how can child protection agencies prevent recruitment” remain opaque although agencies (and their national partners) are striving towards answers. Additionally, many of the components of reintegration ‘packages’ are qualitative rather than quantitative. By definition, therefore, evaluations of child reintegration programmes will also be qualitative. The imperative for good practice in evaluations as well as programme delivery with regard to children means that children’s experience should not be measured only numerically or according to rigid indicators. This evaluation is no exception and relies heavily on observation, reports from children, families and communities as well as child protection professionals.
Thanks are due to all the staff of the UNICEF Child Protection Section and implementing partners who worked tirelessly to make the visits smooth and productive. Thanks are also due to the teachers, community members government officials and political party representatives who gave generously of their time. Above all, thanks are due to the children, their families and communities for their unfailing welcome and support.
Findings and Conclusions:
This programme is innovative, ambitious and catalytic. It addresses directly the realities of children’s association with the CPN-M and does not pretend to import models from other parts of the world. The Programme was designed in the context of a peace agreement that contained express provision for the release of all children from the Maoist Army. This commitment has not been honoured and so the Programme has had to adapt time and again to changing circumstances, both for individual children and for the prospect that there may, yet, be a mass discharge from the cantonments.
Strong, systematic, consistent and sustained advocacy is needed by UNICEF and all its partners to the GoN and the CPN-M to obtain the discharge of all the minors in the cantonments and to work out problems such as the agreement to pay stipends so that they do as little as possible that is contrary to children’s protection rights.
The Programme has many strengths and is an example of best practice in terms of community-based reintegration. There are areas that need strengthening as a matter of urgency, particularly the vocational training and income generation component and in sending out clear messages to the community that all children are welcome and valuable.
UNICEF is fortunate in having strong partners in-country, both national and international organisations. The challenge now will be build on this collaboration, avoid competition and duplication while reaching out to form new partnerships, particularly in the economic sectors.
To UNMIN, UN agencies and Departments, the GoN, donors and international and national NGOs:
• Recognise that the association of children with the CPN-M is an egregious violation of children’s rights according to international law and determine to bring about its cessation;
• Decide how the delivery of the stipend to minors leaving the cantonments can be conducted in a way that is consistent with international standards – particularly the core principles of the CRC;
• Decide on the core message that the community should receive about CAAFAG and to deliver it, by visual means as well as advocacy and community sensitisation;
• Place children and youth at the centre of programming for the transition to peace, taking cognisance of their capacities and contribution;
To UNMIN, UNICEF and other UN agencies and departments:
• Adopt a robust, consistent and sustained advocacy approach with the CPN-M and GoN to effect the immediate release of remaining minors, prevent their recruitment into any groups using violence for political ends and to effect their reintegration into civilian society;
• Position UNICEF as a key actor across the UN system as the lead global agency for child protection;
• Decide on how the most appropriate response to child protection issues and to plan accordingly;
• Collaborate and align programmes in the best interests of children and youth and taking account of their capacities and strengths;
To the CAAFAG Working Group and donors:
• Address the transition of programme from short-term emergency response to a more complex, slower-time programme;
• Register all CAAFAG; Budget for children above ‘quota’ and support as necessary Maintain and extend dialogue with all parties with influence over the reintegration of children, including any emerging groups and all political leaders;
• Simplify programme wherever possible;
• Continue and extend advocacy with political leaders and GoN representatives. Where necessary, formalise these interactions;
• Coordinate and build partnerships with other programmes including targeted budget support, poverty alleviation strategies, work on UNSC Resolution 1325;
• Continue to build national capacity;
• Develop strategy for addressing gender issues;
• Find an alternative to the current modality of the vocational trainning component so that it can become viable and realise its potential. Investigate the possibility of the ILO or an expert NGO taking the lead, with appropriate resources;
• Further develop the relationship with the World Bank, relevant ministries and departments to ensure the effectiveness of the economic self-sufficiency / income-generation component, recognising the contribution that youth have to offer;
• Investigate the possibility of reviving the informal education component that was in the programme design;
• Ensure that the psycho-social component is made uniform in terms of the training received by implementing partners and that they are sufficiently resourced to continue building the capacity of the community in this regard;
• Develop ways of complementing the psycho-social aspects of the current vocational training component such as Child or Girls’ clubs outside school;
• Develop an information flow and advocacy strategy, including public information;
• Develop a youth & peace-building strategy.
Lessons Learned (Optional):
(There are, naturally, areas where the Programme could become stronger. As said already, the Programme was designed without a model for a context with the Npeal characteristics of being at the end of a protracted armed conflict with no victorious army and varying degrees and types of association by the children with the armed group.
Programme Design Stage
The Programme was designed with an expectation of mass discharge from the cantonments. Around 11,000 children were expected to need reinsertion into their communities and longer-term reintegration. While the Programme was designed using a community-based assessment, still, little was known in depth about the patterns of recruitment or the experience of children while associated with the armed group.
Growing knowledge and experience amongst child protection agencies shows that prevention of recruitment and re-recruitment is both possible (to varying extents) and can form a central part of programming for children affected by armed conflict. While the design of the programme focused on reintegration and acknowledged that this would also prevent re-recruitment, some now feel that a greater emphasis could have been placed on prevention from the beginning. This would have involved more and deeper investigation into the reasons why children joined the CPN-M, the different types of recruitment and use and what information or other resources they needed to prevent them from joining.
There was a tendency (as with many armed conflicts that reach a peace agreement stage) to regard the signing of the CPA as the day when reintegration should start. The disadvantages of this approach are that it fails to take account (and use information from) adults and children who have already reintegrated (or not) into their communities. It also means that reintegration is regarded as a sequential event, rather than something that needs to be part of all stages of the programme, including the placing of children in cantonments, the removal of their weapons and their identification as children. The urgency was to be prepared to receive thousands of children, possibly in a short time-scale, into communities that were in a poor state of infrastructure or economic capacity; communities that, in short, that had been subjected to over 10 years of armed conflict and lack of development.
The Programme design was and continues to be steadfastly ‘community-based’ and it was innovative in coming up with ways to encourage communities to accept children in a protective environment and to reduce stigma and distinction between the returning children and their peers, while addressing the severe needs of some other conflict-affected children and maintaining a focus on CAAFAG for Programming and funding purposes. This meant that the Programme became somewhat complex, as evidenced by the fact that some implementing partners found it difficult to explain either to the evaluation team or, apparently, to parents or to schools. The administration of the Programme has also proved a challenge to some implementing partners without intensive mentoring support from UNICEF or INGO staff. In particular, the budgetary structure of the programme – where some money comes from the programme to support children in school and some is expected to come from the school itself - has caused some confusion in some schools and with some implementing partners. The imperative to include non-CAAFAG children, while inspirational in its approach, appears to occaisionlly led schools into identifying more ‘vulnerable’ (non-CAAFAG) children than CAAFAG.
For future programming, a lesson here is that planning for this sort of programme should take place at an earlier stage, so that more research can be done with those ultimately responsible for implementation at the community level.This could avoid problems with implementation, identify areas of divergence between the design of the programme and the capacity of the partners to implement the programme.
All programmes need budgets and to be based on an estimate of need. It became apparent quite quickly, however, that the original figures were underestimates. This was partly because children were leaving the cantonments in small groups or individually and partly because of the emphasis at the beginning of the programme on identifying eligible children. The impact of not being able to meet the changing numbers in a consistent way across the Programme and in a way that is consistent with international standards has been covered elsewhere.
Other agencies and mechanisms
As the armed conflict came to an end and the peace process started again in earnest, other agencies and other mechanisms started to up-scale or to design programmes to fit the current and future context. At this stage, because the Working Group was still in its adolescence, the relationship between the Working Group, the Programme and other mechanisms were not formalised. Of particular note is the mechanism set up pursuant to UN SC Resolution 1612 and the work done by UNFPA on UN SC Resolution 1325 (to ensure the involvement of older girls)
UNDP has developed its own programme for the reintegration of adults, particularly those who have been deemed ‘disqualified’ from eligibility to join the national security system. Unfortunately, the UNDP programme was not designed at the same time, despite the fact that the peace process was underway and again despite international standards for reintegration of ex-combatants. This has meant that there may be a missed opportunity to find ways to make the Programme and the UNDP Programme aligned to take account of the reality that most of the ex-combatants are in the youth cohort. Tensions are likely to arise for ‘disqualified’ cadres when some see themselves as eligible for the UNDP Programme and others for the UNICEF programme when in fact they all consider themselves (rightly) as youth. This becomes particularly acute the longer the ex-combatants are held in the cantonments and the less information they receive from the respective agencies, due to lack of access to the cantonments.
It was regrettable that UNDP was unable to keep any appointments to meet the evaluator to discuss how programming could be better aligned.
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