|A painted sign indicates that weapons are not allowed inside the UNICEF-assisted Djabal camp in south-eastern Chad for refugees from the ongoing conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.|
Red Hand Day, 12 February, is observed annually to spotlight the situation of children who are forced to serve in wars and armed conflicts. It marks the anniversary of the signing of a protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that forbids the use of children in conflict. Here is a related story from Chad.
By Salma Zulfiqar
MOUSSORO, Chad, 12 February 2010 – Hameed (not his real name), 16, has a glazed look on his face when he talks about his life as a child soldier in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region. “I’ve lost count of how many people I have killed, and I don’t think about it,” he says, shuffling his feet nervously.
Hameed ran away from his home in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, in 2007 after being bullied and robbed at school. “I felt that there was no justice in this country, so I went to Sudan,” he explains, adding that he joined a rebel group as a soldier guarding a barrier on the main road from Chad to Sudan.
“I was given a Kalashnikov by the commander,” he recalls, referring to the weapon he carried. “I was responsible for my group of soldiers.”
|© Care International/2010|
|A former child soldier learns tailoring skills at a transit centre supported by UNICEF in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.|
Rehabilitation process begins
Hameed left the rebel group when the situation began to spin out of control. “There was internal conflict,” he says. “I got scared so I came back to Chad.”
He crossed the border and sought help in the eastern Chadian city of Abeche. The local authorities transported him to a training centre here in Moussoro, where military personnel begin the process of identifying and rehabilitating children caught in conflict. They determine the ages of former child soldiers and try to get as much information from them as possible, in order to help reunite them with their families.
The procedure is observed and certified by UNICEF staff.
As part of his rehabilitation, Hameed will be taken to a transit centre run by CARE International and supported by UNICEF back in N’Djamena, where he can stay for up to three months. He will have the opportunity to study and learn new skills that should help him find work in the future. He will also receive psycho-social support while his family is traced.
“I miss my family. I think about them all the time. I wonder what they are doing, what they are eating, and I wonder if they are OK,” says Hameed. “I can’t wait to see them”.
|A boy recovers from wounds at a hospital in the Djabal refugee camp for refugees from the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. The camp is near the town of Goz Beida in Chad’s Ouaddai Region.|
‘It’s heartbreaking to see’
The Chadian Government gives a payment of about $830 to rebel fighters who lay down their arms. This was a lifeline for Hameed. “I’m glad that the authorities helped me. I wasn’t being paid by the rebel group and left without any money,” he says.
“Many of the children that come here are nervous and aggressive,” notes Capt. Saleh Nangtara, a Chadian military officer in Moussoro. “They have seen so much, and some have killed people, too. This affects their state of mind. I’m a father myself and it’s heartbreaking to see what these children have gone through.”
While there are no confirmed figures on how many Chadian children have been recruited by armed groups in Sudan, the number is thought to be high. Children are recruited either voluntarily, as in Hameed’s case, or by force – with armed groups reportedly entering border villages in Chad.
Against the backdrop of internal conflict that has affected Chad since 2006, cases of child recruitment by armed groups inside the country have also been reported.
Support for demobilization
UNICEF and the Government of Chad signed an agreement for the demobilization of child soldiers in May 2007. This accord followed Chad’s commitment at the Paris Protocols, signed in February 2006, to stop the recruitment of children into armed forces and groups.
To date, nearly 800 Chadian children who left armed groups have received assistance from UNICEF as part of the rehabilitation programme.
“Following recent positive peace talks between Sudan and Chad, we hope to see more children demobilized in the coming months,” says UNICEF Chad Chief of Child Protection Philippe Assale, but he stresses that these efforts will needs more funding to continue.