KABUL, 8 February 2004 – An initial group of 2,000 former underage soldiers associated with Afghanistan’s fighting forces will benefit from a reintegration and rehabilitation programme this week, supported by UNICEF. The programme – which follows a successful pilot project in 2003 – begins on February 10 in the north-eastern province of Badahkshan and will be followed by similar exercises in Kunduz, Taloqan, Baghlan and the Central Highlands region throughout February.
A total of 5,000 underage soldiers will receive assistance from the programme by the end of 2004. The programme has been established in consultation with the Afghan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) which is leading on the disarmament of former combatants across Afghanistan.
The new phase of the reintegration programme focuses on the development of an information database on each former underage soldier, including psychosocial assessment and medical screening, and the creation of a comprehensive care plan for each child. Following their identification by local demobilization and integration committees, each participant will receive information and advice on options available to him, such as education, vocational training and other skills acquisition, as well as drug abuse prevention and mine risk education. Special briefings for the former child soldiers will also explain the civic responsibilities expected of all community members, in an effort to underline the constructive role that these young people can make in the rebuilding of their nation.
UNICEF is working with a number of NGO partners including Child Fund Afghanistan, AREA, Save the Children - Sweden and BRAC to provide community-based rehabilitation projects that will allow former underage soldiers and other vulnerable to re-enter education, or learn a new skill or trade that will assist them to financially support themselves and their families, and provide opportunities and alternatives to military life. Most former underage soldiers in Afghanistan have missed out on many years of education, and all participants in the programme will receive basic literacy and numeracy tuition. In the northern provinces where the reintegration project is commencing this week, it is expected that participants will be able to start education and skills training activities within two to four weeks once their needs and aspirations have been assessed.
UNICEF estimates that there a total of 8,000 former child soldiers in Afghanistan, many of whom have already left the fighting forces informally over the past year. All are in urgent need of assistance to fully reintegrate to civilian life, especially in the area of education and sustainable income-generation.
For more information, please contact:
Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Media – Kabul +93 (0)702 74729