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Despite challenges, UNICEF continues to push for release of child soldiers

UNICEF Image: Chad, Child soldiers
© UNICEF Chad/2007
Two young boys walk through the town of Guereda, Chad.

By Cornelia Walther

N’DJAMENA, Chad, 29 April 2009 – Abraham, 13, is a former child soldier who was demobilized in 2007. His large brown eyes belie his age. They have clearly seen more than a young boy should.

"I joined the rebels because I couldn’t stand the injustice any longer. When they attacked our village, my family lost everything – our belongings and our pride. They raped my sister in front of my eyes," Abraham recalled.

Today, Abraham is being helped through a transit and orientation centre managed by UNICEF and its partner, CARE, in N’Djamena. The centre guides demobilized child soldiers back to their communities and helps them return to normalcy.

Getting help from transit centres

UNICEF and partners are supporting these transit centres to help with the first stages of recovery for children who have been involved in armed conflict. Children hosted in the centres receive food, health care and psychosocial support, as well as education and professional training.

After Hachim, 14, arrived at the centre, he was integrated into a local school.

"After I have finished my education, I will become a teacher in my village," Hachim said. "At home, we had no access to education and very seldom enough to eat."

Commitment to the Paris Protocols

On 9 May 2007, UNICEF and the Government of Chad signed an agreement for the demobilization of child soldiers throughout the country.

The accord follows Chad’s commitment at the Paris Protocols, agreed in February 2006, to demobilize children enrolled in armed forces and groups. Since February 2007, 555 children have been released. 

The recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 is defined as a war crime in the statute of the International Criminal Court.

Lured into conflict
The estimated number of children involved in armed groups in Chad remains in the thousands. Vulnerable children are often lured into recruitment after suffering from poverty or the loss of family members.

"When the men in nice uniforms came to our village promising food and clothes – and that I would get my own weapon – it sounded like a great opportunity," said Hachim.

After he was demobilized, it still took some time for Hachim to feel comfortable returning to a life outside of conflict.

"In the beginning, I didn’t want to leave my troops and I thought about returning every day," he said. "But then, one month after my arrival in the centre, our social worker found me a place with a local mechanic. This week, my supervisor informed me that they will give me a real job.”

Ongoing conflict in the country has hampered the most recent demobilization process, but UNICEF continues to push for the release of children who are already involved with armed groups and is working to prevent the recruitment of additional minors.



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