Côte d’Ivoire: Prevention, Demobilization and Reintegration - children associated with armed groups
During the recent conflict in the western part of Côte d’Ivoire, numerous atrocities were committed against local populations. In particular, the Danané and Man areas experienced violent clashes, resulting in destruction, looting, displacement of people and violence against the population – with children as witnesses and sometimes even as actors.
Thousands of children were recruited by the armed militia groups involved, such as the Forces armées des Forces nouvelles (FAFN); these children were deprived of their rights and denied satisfaction of their most elementary needs.
The objectives of UNICEF’s prevention, demobilization and reintegration (PDR) project were to ensure psychosocial, socio-professional and educational assistance to 3,000 children formerly associated with armed forces or at risk of recruitment, and to prevent new recruitment through awareness-raising activities among communities and leaders of armed groups.
Strategies used and actions taken
Using European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) funding, UNICEF initiated a PDR programme in six affected areas: Bouaké, Korhogo, Man, Danané, Guiglo and Logoualé. The strategies involved included using Security Council Resolution 1612 as an advocacy tool, strategic coordination, an integrated programme approach, community mobilization and working in partnership.
1. Resolution 1612
Following the UN Security Council’s July 2005 adoption of Resolution 1612, which aims to establish a monitoring and reporting system on grave child rights violations, UNICEF and United Nations Operations in Côte d’Ivoire drew up an action plan that called on all armed groups to cease recruiting children and to collaborate with UNICEF for the identification and reintegration of children still in the military camps. The plan was approved and signed by FAFN headquarters, after which UNICEF met with the FAFN general to discuss implementation, with the following results:
- A focal point for the monitoring of PDR was designated in each of the 10 areas under FAFN control;
- Staff at each focal point were trained by UNICEF and Save the Children in international humanitarian law, child protection issues and the provisions of SCR 1612;
- A performance contract describing the activities to be undertaken (identification, demobilization, awareness-raising with camp leaders) and the exact time frame for implementation was signed with each focal point;
- A verification committee comprising all actors involved in PDR (International Rescue Committee, Save the Children UK, and Save the Children Sweden) was established to carry out unannounced visits to the military camps.
Continued high-level advocacy and regular visits to the project’s intervention areas contributed to an atmosphere of trust, and the plan has not only been signed by the FAFN, but has also been ratified by the four major pro-governmental militias.
2. Integrated programmatic approach
The programming approach integrates several key components of PDR as follows:
- Integrating interventions for children associated with armed forces with those for children affected by the crisis in other ways (children from broken families, out of school, living in the street), so as to decrease stigmatization of the former while assisting other vulnerable children in the community.
- Providing basic education for children in the programme areas, the majority of whom have lost four years of schooling, by offering catch up classes and reintegration into the formal school system for those still of school age and professional apprenticeships for those too old to return to school. No matter which option was chosen, all benefited from alphabetization courses, so they would know how to read and write.
- Providing awareness raising on HIV/AIDS for the mostly adolescent programme beneficiaries, along with adequate assistance for HIV or sexually transmitted infection cases, given that Côte d'Ivoire has one of the region’s highest HIV prevalence rates.
- Providing vocational training for children in accordance with the needs of their environment – apprenticeships with local craftsmen in urban areas or agro-pastoral activities in rural areas – so as to offer them a better guarantee of professional insertion and minimize the risk of their being re-recruited.
- Providing effective psychosocial assistance for the numerous children traumatized by the events of the war.
3. Community mobilization
Community involvement was crucial to the project. Communities were asked to provide teaching spaces for the alphabetization sessions, to remunerate the volunteer teachers who replaced the civil servants who had deserted these zones during the conflict, and to provide fields for the creation of agricultural, fishery and cattle-breeding farms at no cost. The communities also provided NGO-recruited trainers and children without parents free lodging at the project sites.
The programme invited the Autonomous Alphabetization Service (AAS), an agency of the Ministry of National Education, to train all project facilitators in alphabetization techniques. The agro-pastoral activities benefited from the technical support of the National Agency for Rural Development (ANADER), a government structure specialized in training and advising farmers in order to improve their agricultural performance.
Partnerships with other UN agencies and international NGOs have been established. The World Food Programme has played an essential role by providing monthly food rations to the impoverished families of children assisted by the project, thus ensuring their active participation. FAO provided seeds and agricultural materials to establish agro-pastoral plots for the training of children, and UNDP provided financial assistance. The International Committee of the Red Cross assisted in finding certain children’s families, and Population Service International (PSI) trained 35 trainers of trainers (ToTs) in order to ensure the proper training of the peer educators who would be undertaking HIV/AIDS awareness-raising activities. PSI also provided NGO-recruited nurses with kits to treat STI cases among the children.
Other child protection agencies (Save the Children) participated in the project activities, in particular those concerned with the training of FAFN intermediaries and the design of a strategy and tools to identify and demobilize children currently in the military camps.
Major results achieved by the project are the following:
- 2,208 children received assistance, i.e. psychosocial and medical assistance, nutritional support, HIV/AIDS awareness-raising, support for reintegration into school, alphabetization courses and professional initiation in the informal sector or the agro-pastoral sector.
- 729 children benefited from professional apprenticeships or training in the agro-pastoral sector.
- 608 children went back to school and 894 benefited from alphabetization courses.
- All beneficiaries were taught how to read and write.
Among other achievements, it can be said that psychosocial assistance to children considerably improved over time, as did the quality of HIV/AIDS awareness-raising, the self-esteem of peer educator children and the sustainability of awareness-raising activities. Also, over time, the children’s life prospects improved, as training channels became better adjusted to local economic realities.
This experience is considered innovative because of the integrated approach that, beyond PDR activities benefiting children associated with armed groups, also addressed other protection issues caused or aggravated by the conflict and so benefited other children made vulnerable by the crisis. The following additional successes of this approach have been observed:
- Other local children were included in the project activities;
- Other issues, such as education, access to health care and the fight against HIV/AIDS, were addressed;
- A feeling of ownership was created in the communities that participated in the project activities;
- Numerous partners were involved, all providing their technical expertise;
- Resolution 1612 proved an effective advocacy tool to consolidate the commitment of armed groups and ensure their participation in the action plans;
- A link was established between monitoring and reporting activities, as intended by Resolution 1612 and the programme activities;
- Local partner capacities were strengthened, helping to ensure the sustainability of the interventions.
- The following challenges continue to be addressed:
- Maintaining PDR activities while shifting the focus to preventing new recruitment; finding more space for social and recreational activities, establishing child-friendly spaces, and otherwise strengthening community mechanisms to protect children against recruitment;
- Facilitating the economic integration of adolescents currently receiving professional training;
- Finding the right audience within communities to address other emerging child protection issues, such as the right to birth registration and the fight against sexual violence and female genital mutilation (FGM);
- Extending the use of Resolution 1612 beyond PDR advocacy to addressing gender-based violence, which has become an important issue, and pursuing the link between monitoring and reporting and programme responsiveness.