|© UNICEF/ HQ06-0721/ Brioni|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi holds a toddler at the Social Action and Solidarity Centre.|
By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 22 June 2006 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi has concluded a visit to Côte d’Ivoire, where she experienced firsthand the situation facing Ivorian children afflicted by civil conflict, including former child soldiers.
During the trip, the Japanese actress and child advocate visited UNICEF-supported programmes in the areas of education, water and sanitation, health and HIV/AIDS, as well as child protection.
From Abidjan in the south to Bouaké and then on to Korhogo in the north, Ms. Kuroyanagi travelled across the West African nation, witnessing the consequences of several years of recurring conflict. Among the highlights of her visit was a meeting with former child soldiers who had graduated from demobilization and reintegration centres.
Since the beginning of this year, some 327 children have been demobilized in Côte d’Ivoire, and 1,600 are presently enrolled in the UNICEF-supported centres.
Psycho-social care and training
UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Youssouf Oomar explained that children have joined armed groups for various reasons. Since schools and basic social services shut down in situations of conflict and instability, he said, children are often left to wander on their own. Some in search of food – and others in search of adventure – end up in armed camps.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi confers with UNICEF Representative Youssouf Oomar during her trip to Cote D’Ivoire.|
Just three weeks ago, Mr Oomar took part in the graduation of 44 former child soldiers in Côte d’Ivoire’s western city of Man.
“These children went through a process of psycho-social care as well as a training program,” he said. “We put them in apprenticeship, provided them with the necessary equipment – not only in terms of tools but also in terms of an educational process. It was quite impressive to see these children now.”
The former child soldiers Mr. Oomar met in Man said they were going back to their families, but he emphasized that follow-up efforts with these children are crucial to make sure they don’t revert to the armed groups.
Call for sustainable peace
Once regarded as a model of prosperity and peace, Côte d’Ivoire has slipped into internal strife with deep divisions along ethnic, political and religious lines. Today, although the situation has improved, no political solution has yet resolved the conflict.
“To be able to solve the serious problems we face in this country, we need peace,” asserted Mr. Oomar. “We need to put a moratorium on all conflicts, we need to get sustainable peace. We need the reunification of the country – one country, one people, one system.”
UNICEF and its partners continue to dedicate much of their effort in Côte d’Ivoire to preventing child involvement in armed conflict, demobilizing child soldiers and reinserting them into their families. But more funds are needed to help the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 child soldiers remaining.
At the end of her recent visit, Ms. Kuroyanagi expressed hope that it would generate a greater global response for Ivorian children caught in this humanitarian crisis.
22 June 2006: UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Youssouf Oomar talks about Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s visit and UNICEF’s efforts to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers.