|© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1147/Olivier Asselin|
|International recording artist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal (left) and UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War Ishmael Beah give the peace sign during a free concert held in N’Djaména, Chad, in conjuction with the regional conference on ending the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.|
By Salma Zulfiqar and Hector Calderon
N’DJAMENA, Chad, 11 June 2010 – At a regional conference here this week, Chad and five other Central African nations signed a declaration on ending the use of child soldiers. In a recorded video address to the participants, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake offered fervent support for the move.
Over 150 delegates came together at the conference in the Chadian capital. Meeting from 7 to 9 June, they discussed the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups, and the reintegration of former child soldiers into society.
“With leadership, with commitment and with collaboration, we can make progress and protect the children who so desperately need our help,” Mr. Lake said in his message to the delegates, noting the success of recent efforts to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers in several Central African nations.
“A child’s place is with their family, a child’s place is at school,” said Chad’s Minister of Social Action, Ngarbatina Odjimbeye Soukate, “and this is the only way we can develop the world.”
Commitments to child rights
The ‘N’Djaména Declaration’ on child soldiers, adopted at the end of the conference, was signed by representatives of Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. The signatories pledged to stop the use of children in armed conflict and to strive – institutionally and through concrete actions – for the release and reintegration of children in their respective countries.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0925/Olivier Asselin|
|In N’Djaména, the Chadian capital, speakers and other delegates attend 7 June opening of a regional conference on theending the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, jointly organized by the Government of Chad and UNICEF.|
The declaration is a binding document that outlines the six countries’ commitments to international standards for the protection of children.
These standards include the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which offer protection for children who are vulnerable to armed conflict, or to being sold or exploited for purposes of prostitution or pornography; and the Paris Commitments and Paris Principles, which provide guidelines for protecting children from recruitment and assisting those already involved with armed groups or forces.
In an key development, the conferees established a special committee charged with implementation of the N’Djaména Declaration. The committee will meet regularly and develop an action plan and timetable for reporting.
From words to action
“This is a new beginning in Africa, a firm step towards giving all children in the region the dignity of a childhood they’ve so often been deprived of by decades of conflict,” said UNICEF Representative in Chad Dr. Marzio Babille.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0245/Olivier Asselin|
|UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War Ishmael Beah speaks at a working session of the regional conference on ending the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, held in N’Djaména, Chad.|
“It is now time to translate these powerful words into concrete actions,” he added. “UNICEF Chad remains committed to sustain efforts of all the countries in the region.”
Following a cooperation agreement between UNICEF and the government in 2007, Chad demobilized over 800 children from rebel groups. The children have entered rehabilitation centres and receive vocational training in a bid to stop them from rejoining the armed groups for economic reasons
UNICEF advocate speaks out
Delegates to the N’Djaména conference also heard from former child soldier Ishmael Beah, who fought in Sierra Leone’s civil war and is now UNICEF’s Advocate for Children Affected by War.
“Together, we can put an end to the suffering of these children who deserve a better childhood, and thus laying the foundation for a better future for our respective nations and the world,” said Mr. Beah.
In addition, Emmanuel Jal, who fought as a child in Sudan’s long-running civil war and is now an internationally acclaimed rap artist, attended the conference and performed a song calling for peace. And Zaccheline Dugbe, who fought in Liberia’s civil war and is now a police officer, told her story to delegates.
‘We came here to testify’
Mr. Beah, Mr. Jal and Ms. Dugbe all described how they were recruited, the horrors they suffered, why the recruitment of child soldiers must end and why they had come to Chad to tell their stories.
“We came here to testify,” said Mr. Jal. “We came on an emotional level to be able to touch people’s hearts, because when you touch people’s hearts, the message is held for a long time, and they’ll be able to act…. But if you only touch their minds, it’s temporary.”
The former child soldiers later appeared together at a free, open-air advocacy concert that featured local and international artists, including Sultan and Prince Eyango. Mr. Jal and Mr. Beah took to the stage and rapped about their experiences to thousands who had gathered for the event.
Other speakers at the regional conference included the Prime Minister of Chad, Emmanuel Nadingar, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Chad (and former UNICEF Deputy Executive Director) Rima Salah and UNICEF Representative to the African Union Akila Belembaogo, among many other officials and dignitaries.
9 June 2010: UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on the signing of the N’Djaména Declaration by six Central African countries pledging a renewed commitment to end the use of child soldiers.
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4 June 2010: UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake pledges support for a declaration on ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers in a video address recorded for participants in the child-soldiers conference in Chad.
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