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“We were forced to kill,” recalls child released from armed forces in Chad

By Ferso Dohou Pascal and Manuel Moreno

N’DJAMENA, Chad, 30 June 2014 – As he sits on a tree trunk, staring at the ground, Ibrahim* recalls how a rebel group in northern Chad recruited him three years ago. His voice is monotone, as if his experience had happened to someone else, not to him.

© UNICEF Chad/2014/Pirozzi
Boys in a UNICEF-assisted social centre to support children released from armed groups in N'Djamena, Chad.

At age 15, he was coerced, drugged and forced to kill.

“When the rebel group arrived, they found our school,” he says. “The rebels intimidated us. They beat up us and told us to join them. They said that our families would be protected.”

He and his schoolmates were taken to the rebel’s base in the mountains. It was then that his childhood was stolen – when he was no longer a child but a tool of war.

No escape

“For three months we [young new recruits] learned how to handle weapons and how to greet our chief. They also taught us how to disassemble and repair mortars and to shoot accurately on targets,” Ibrahim says.

“We had to do a lot of shooting,” he remembers. “We were forced to kill without fear, raping girls and women, to prove that we were very strong.”

He says that they were ordered to cut the breasts or the ears of those who resisted rape. Most of the time, and especially during these violent incidents, he and his friends were on drugs.

Those who attempted to escape were killed or tortured – sometimes in front of other children, to discourage them from doing the same.

A desperate move

In a desperate move, Ibrahim managed to run away and return to his family village. But when he got there, he didn’t find what he was expecting.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1152/Asselin
A boy sits against a wall covered with drawings of weapons and military vehicles, in a transit and orientation centre for children released from armed groups, in N’Djaména, Chad. The centre, run by NGO CARE International and supported by UNICEF, provides rehabilitation services, skills training and shelter for former child recruits until they are reunited with their families or become self-sufficient.

“One day I escaped to see my parents because I was tired of this life. When my parents saw me coming they all run away,” he says. “Nobody wanted me in the village.”

The rejection by his family made him go back to the rebels. He spent two years fighting before a peace agreement led to a general pardon for rebel movements and their integration into the national army.

An age verification process was carried out by the Government, but Ibrahim was forced to lie to stay in the army.
“Many of my friends my age were released,” he says. “But the day before the age verification, my boss instructed me to say that I was 18. He said I was better than the others at handling weapons, and he did not want to lose me.”

On the day of the age verification, he tried to hide but his commander found him. “He noticed me and forced me to say, over and over again while I was repeatedly questioned, that my age was 18,” Ibrahim says. “Yet, I was only 17 years old.”

A lengthy process

Securing children´s releases can be difficult, as often they do not have official proof of age. And their release is only the beginning of a lengthy process. First, they are sent to a transit centre, where they receive psychological evaluation and counselling. Then they are trained in vocational skills before being reunited with their families and reintegrated into their communities.

In 2011 the Government of Chad signed an action plan to end recruitment and use of children by armed forces, but in the United Nations Secretary-General’s 2013 Report on Children and Armed Conflict, the national army remained listed among the parties recruiting and using children.

Foundations for a prosperous country

“Recruiting children is both morally unacceptable and prohibited under international law,” says Bruno Maes, UNICEF Chad Representative. “UNICEF will continue to support the Government´s commitment to end these violations and to prevent them to happen in the future.”
Working with partners, UNICEF supports children released from armed groups with a package of services that includes health care, psychosocial support, family tracing and reunification, and return to school.

“When we help a former child soldier overcome such a terrible experience and the child is reintegrated back into society, we do more than mend a stolen childhood,” Mr. Maes says. “We lay the foundations for a prosperous country.”

“I am willing to go to school. But my bosses have never allowed me. Today I am 18 years old and I realize that I'm missing something,” Ibrahim says. “To go back to school could allow me to express myself in French and also to read and write.”

* Name changed

Note: In the latest report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Chad is no longer listed among the countries where parties recruit or use children in armed conflict.



UNICEF Photography: Released from armed groups

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