WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA feature story for Chad
© UNICEF Chad/2009/Noy
Boys play football at a transit centre for former child soldiers in N’Djaména. UNICEF and CARE International run several centres that provide counselling, health and psychosocial support, and vocational training to help reintegrate children into their communities.
PARTNERSHIPS FOR PEACE: THE JOURNEY HOME FOR CHILDREN ASSOCIATED WITH ARMED CONFLICT IN CHAD
N’DJAMENA, Chad, August 2009 - “It has been a long journey,” whispers 16-year-old Ali1. “Sometimes I still have very bad nightmares, and I remember when we were so lost in the fighting … but when I wake up here at the Centre, I know it is over, and our situation is getting better.”
Ali is one of 83 children associated with an armed group who was captured by government forces in May 2009 and then released to UNICEF by the Government of Chad.
“I was herding the cows, and the camels of my family,” he recalls about the circumstances of his joining an armed group. “Then one day, people with guns came, and stole all of our cattle.”
Feeling his way of life and family under attack, Ali decided that taking up arms was the only survival strategy left in a region that continues to face economic collapse, a breakdown of societal norms and displacement.
“We walked, at night, long walks,” Ali continues. “We were hiding during the day, so that they won’t find us. Then we travelled across the Darfur border. We were many children there. We stayed about one year – then we went deeper in Sudan. We were afraid as we waited to cross back over the frontier for battle.”
Creating safe environments
Ali is one of an estimated 300,000 children around the world currently exploited by armed groups or armed forces. In May 2007, UNICEF together with the Government of Chad signed a legally-binding commitment to prevent child recruitment, and for the release and reintegration of children associated with armed groups or forces.
Following this agreement, UNICEF and CARE International opened several transit centres in N’Djaména, the capital, to offer such children a safe environment. Support includes food, clothing and medical care as well as counselling during what is often a time of stress and uncertainty. This joint collaboration has resulted in the demobilization of 654 Chadian children involved in armed conflict and reintegration into their families and communities.
UNICEF Chad Child Protection Officer Désiré Mohindo expresses her appreciation for the joint efforts in helping children get their lives started again: “Working in close partnership with CARE and sharing our years of expertise, the most fundamental element of our programme is to provide the psychosocial support and counselling to each and every one of these children, most of whom have lived through unimaginable misery and trauma.”
Seventeen-year-old Ousmane agrees. He joined an armed group after armed men killed his parents and raided the family farm. Following an agreement between the government and the armed group, Ousmane was released and spent the next five months in one of the transit centres in N’Djaména. Once there, he learned French and began a course in auto-mechanics before returning to his town in eastern Chad. This was made possible through a joint programme among Jesuit Refugee Services, the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNICEF.
“It’s good to be back in my village,” says Ousmane. “My dream today would be to open my own garage.”
UNICEF continues to collaborate with the government and other key partners such as CARE and Jesuit Refugee Services to improve the lives of children distressed and often dehumanized by years spent in the battlefields of Chad and Sudan.
1 Names have been changed to protect identities.