Côte d'Ivoire

Former child soldiers still at risk as instability continues in Côte d’Ivoire

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© UNICEF video
A group of former child combatants speak with UNICEF Protection Officer Francis Zacko in the village Gnakanzou, which is situated in Côte d’Ivoire’s volatile western region.

By Bob Coen

GNAKANZOU, Côte d’Ivoire, 22 February 2006 – Renewed violence in this West African nation divided by three years of civil and ethnic conflict has raised concerns that hundreds of demobilised former child combatants – those who have been returned to their communities – could once again be at risk of re-recruitment.
 
“As long lasting peace has not been signed, most of the groups don’t want to disarm – they want to keep soldiers, they want to keep children,” says UNICEF Child Protection Advisor Manuel Fontaine. “Also, in some cases, they recruit children because they want to look stronger when they start to actually negotiate positions in the future government.”

The demobilization of child soldiers – and other children associated with armed groups – is one of UNICEF‘s most urgent priorities in Côte d’Ivoire. It is estimated that more than 5,000 children have been associated with armed groups in the conflict. Working with its UN and other partners, UNICEF has been able to help reintegrate more than 1,900 of these children back into their communities.

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© UNICEF video
UNICEF is warning that as long as a lasting peace is not firmly established in Côte d’Ivoire, children remain at risk of recruitment and abduction by armed groups.

The village of Gnakanzou in the volatile west of the country has been a particular success story. Close to the border with Liberia, it is situated in an area that has been exposed to more than a decade of instability. In November 2002 rebels attacked the village killing, injuring and raping scores of civilians and abducting more than a thousand children. The children were then forcibly recruited by warlords and forced to participate in campaigns of violence before being taken across the border to Liberia.

In late 2004 most of these children managed to escape from Liberia following clashes between different rebel factions. Together with PAHO, a local non-governmental organization, UNICEF was able to repatriate 720 of them back to Gnakanzou. Today through counselling, skills training and regular follow-up visits they have been successfully reintegrated into the community.

However fresh outbreaks of inter-ethnic violence and recent attacks on UN peacekeepers by militant youth groups in the western region have resulted in the evacuation of many humanitarian workers, putting these former child combatants at risk of re-recruitment.

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© UNICEF video
17-year-old Rigobert, with back to camera, recounts to UNICEF Protection Officer Francis Zacko how he was recently offered money to rejoin the rebels’ ranks.

Seventeen-year-old Rigobert, who spent almost two years fighting for the rebels before being repatriated, says he turned down a group of young men who came to the village in September 2005 offering money to children to join their ranks.

“My message to them is to leave the guns,” he says. “Taking up guns and going to fight your brother is not good. Leave those guns.”

In July 2005 the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1612 to monitor the situation of children in a number of countries affected by conflict – including Côte d’Ivoire – and impose sanctions on violators. Together with other UN agencies in Côte d’Ivoire UNICEF has started the establishment of a viable Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) in the application of the resolution.
 
“Basically we have to provide regular reports to the Security Council in saying: yes or no children are still being recruited; yes or no their still being used, and by this or that group,” explains Manuel Fontaine. “Then the Security Council would be in a position to take measures, to take sanctions against the leaders of those groups. For example, forbid them from travelling abroad, or prevent them accessing power position in the future governments. We see that as a great opportunity to finally make a difference against child recruitment.”

UNICEF is also conducting extensive briefings on the application of Resolution 1612 to all sides in Côte d’Ivoire’s conflict. However as long as the instability continues and a lasting peace is not firmly established, children will remain at risk of being recruited.


 

 

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22 February 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on how former child soldiers have been reintegrated into their communities in western Côte d’Ivoire and how continued violence threatens their rehabilitation.

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22 February 2006:
UNICEF Child Protection Advisor Manuel Fontaine speaks about the challenges facing former child soldiers in Côte d’Ivoire and the risk posed to them by the continued instability in the country.

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