Rehabilitating children fundamental to national stability, and key to breaking the cycle of child-soldier wars in West Africa
MONROVIA/NEW YORK/GENEVA, 26 August 2004 – Just four months after the launch of a massive disarmament campaign, almost 85 per cent of about 5,800 demobilized children have gone home to their families. Over 115 children were reunified this week.
“Children who’ve been forcibly abducted or recruited into war are finally being allowed to go home, where they belong,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “Children have said a resounding ‘yes!’ to peace, and they deserve a fighting chance at it.”
Bellamy is in Liberia for three days to mark the one-year anniversary of the signing of the country’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement. During her visit, she met with children formerly associated with fighting forces (CAFF) staying at interim care centres (ICCs), and visited a camp with over 20,000 people displaced by conflict.
CAFF were either forced to carry arms, serve as spies, porters, cooks and sex slaves. Those staying at ICCs – currently 970 - get to return to their homes once their families have been traced. Of the almost 5,800 children demobilized so far, 1,175 were girls, 15 of whom were pregnant. The numbers do not include almost 50 infants. Some 85 foreign children, mostly from Guinea and Sierra Leone, also await repatriation.
The children are going through the Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) programme led by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The DDRR calls for a systematic demobilization of all CAFF, and support for their reintegration. The reintegration phase – what happens to children when they get home – emphasizes access to education and vocational training, supported by strong community involvement.
Liberia’s experience with the DDRR is not unlike that seen by neighboring Sierra Leone, where almost 7,000 children were demobilized and over 6,700 reunified between 1999 and 2004, Bellamy said.
Sierra Leone’s experience shows that long-term success – meaning that children do not get abducted or recruited into wars again and can look forward to positive futures – lies in ensuring that communities and children get the support they need not only to rebuild, but to do so on much stronger ground, she said.
Consistent follow-up by child protection agencies for family mediation, psychosocial counseling, remedial education and skills training were among the most important factors, Bellamy said.
“Children should never have been caught up in the conflict in the first place. They should never have seen murders and rapes, or the intentional destruction of their schools and hospitals. After 15 years of war, Liberia has a tremendous opportunity – and responsibility – to ensure that children never have to live through the terror of war again,” she said.
“This is the time to invest in children – to put their futures, and that of the country - at the heart of development planning,” Bellamy said. “Liberian children need to look to the future with hope and confidence – and that means, as a bare minimum, arming them instead with education and skills.”
A Back-to-School campaign launched by UNICEF in November has enabled more than 800,000 children and 20,000 teachers, 12,000 of whom have taken part in an emergency teacher training course, to get back to classrooms, Bellamy said. UNICEF has provided education supplies, teacher-training, safe water and sanitation facilities in schools.
Over the next 18 months, an accelerated learning programme that folds six years of primary school into three will be introduced into public schools, particularly in areas seeing large numbers of returning children.
Even before the war almost half of all school-age children were not enrolled in classes, while girls made up less than half the number of boys at the primary school level. Only a quarter of Liberian women can read, and only two in five men.
Bellamy will speak to journalists at press conference at 9:00 a.m., 26 Aug., at UNICEF, Bright’s Apartment, Mamba Point, Monrovia.
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