Nearly 4,000 former child soldiers demobilized; reintegration programme provides constructive activities in the community.
KABUL, 16 December 2004 – As the first full year of the UNICEF-supported demobilization and reintegration programme for former child soldiers draws to a close in Afghanistan, nearly 4,000 children have now been demobilized. The UN children’s agency reports today that the programme has created new opportunities for thousands of children who have missed out on years of education as a result of past conflicts.
A total of 3, 998 children – all boys, the majority being aged 14-17 years old – have been demobilized in 15 provinces in north, north-east, east and central Afghanistan since the programme began in February. While efforts were made to identify eligible girls, information gathered during demobilization indicates that in fact girls appear not to have been attached to the fighting forces.
The child soldier programme runs in two distinct phases; first, local demobilization and reintegration committees – made of community representatives and NGOs, supported by UNICEF technical staff – assess children to check their eligibility for assistance (based on being under the age of 18, and evidence of the child being associated with an armed unit with a command structure). Each of the demobilized children then receives a package of support, starting with their registration in the programme’s database, receipt of photo identity cards, medical and psychosocial assessments, and briefing sessions on mine risk education, drug abuse prevention, reintegration options, HIV/AIDS prevention and basic health education. In addition each child signs an order of oath, underlining their civic responsibilities. There is an option for demobilized children to take up voluntary testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. In the second phase, each demobilized child has the opportunity to participate in a number of reintegration options, including returning to education or enrolling in vocational training programmes to learn a practical skill.
The focus of the programme is on community participation. 1,400 former child soldiers have been enrolled in programmes alongside other vulnerable children from the same community, to help build a sense of integration. The reintegration programmes provide support for street working children and out of school youth as well as the former child soldiers. 87% of demobilized former child soldiers have received no formal education; enabling them to play a constructive role in their community therefore demands a range of options that combine non-formal education, such as literacy tuition, with practical skills training. Popular choices amongst the demobilized child soldiers have been agricultural and animal husbandry, tailoring, carpentry, electronics and masonry.
Those former child soldiers who participated in the first rounds of demobilization in February are now nearing completion of their training programmes, and more than 1,000 children will shortly receive special start-up kits that will enable them to carry on their new trade in the community. Employment placements have been found for these young people, and their progress will continue to be monitored in the coming months. In a further development, the Ministry of Education has agreed that following completion of a nine month non-formal literacy course, and the successful passing of a competency test, former child soldiers in the programme will be issued with a certificate recognizing their achievement, even if they have not been enrolled in a formal school.
UNICEF’s project officer responsible for the child soldier demobilization and reintegration programme, Ibrahim Sesay, today congratulated all those who have made the programme so successful. “The involvement of partners at every level – especially in the communities where these children are now participating in reintegration programmes – has ensured that new opportunities are being provided to young people who have been denied a stable childhood in the past.”
“These young people – despite being denied the chances that most children have in their formative years – have demonstrated that they want to make a positive contribution to the development of their communities,” he added.
UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 8,000 former child soldiers in Afghanistan, most of whom were forcibly conscripted to fighting forces in the last years of the conflict. While many have left their units voluntarily, few have had the chance to rebuild their educational and life skills, and risk being marginalized. The demobilization and reintegration programme, which is run in parallel to the adult Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration process led by the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), aims to provide former child soldiers with practical opportunities in the community that will enable them to earn an income, support their families, and develop basic education skills.
UNICEF now hopes to complete the demobilization programme in provinces of the south, west and south-east of the country not covered in 2004. The programme is funded with support from The United States Department of Labor, Swedish Development Agency SIDA, Germany, the Japan Ogata Initiative and UNICEF National Committees in industrialised countries, as well as in-kind support from partners WFP and IOM, at a total cost to date of US$ 5.3 million.
For more information please contact
Edward Carwardine, Head of Public Information, UNICEF Afghanistan
+93 (0)796 07400
or Mohammad Rafi, Assistant Communication Officer, UNICEF Afghanistan
+93 (0)796 07403 (Dari and Pashto)