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Press Release

Hundreds of ex-child soldiers begin
rehabilitation in Rwanda

Newly Demobilized Children Get Trauma Counselling While Families Are Traced

NAIROBI / GENEVA / NEW YORK, 20 August 2001 - Some 227 former child soldiers, ranging in age from 10 to 18 years, have arrived at a rehabilitation centre outside the Rwandan capital of Kigali after being held near the conflict zone in northwest Rwanda where they were captured over the summer.

Recent press releases and statements on child soldiers

Most of the children say they were forcibly recruited and trained in eastern DRC.

In late May clashes erupted in northwestern Rwanda between the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and "infiltrators" from the DRC. After two weeks of conflict, the RPA gained control over most of the area, periodically capturing opposing fighters. Of the approximately 1,000 combatants taken into custody through early August, several hundred were children.

Initially kept under the custody of military authorities, the children were soon transferred to a "solidarity" camp in Mudende (Gisenyi Prefecture) set up by the civilian authorities to re-educate those who had been captured or who had surrendered.

To help care for the children, UNICEF provided health supplies, water, sanitation facilities and basic survival items including mattresses, blankets and bed sheets.

"By early August, nearly 300 children had been taken into custody, at a rate of about 50 children per week," said Gerry Dyer, UNICEF's Chief Programme Officer in Rwanda. "Approximately 85 per cent of the children are Rwandan, the rest Congolese."

The children, transferred to the Gitagata rehabilitation centre outside Kigali over the last several days, are now receiving psycho-social counselling and non-formal education provided by UNICEF and its partners. "We are attempting to locate their families and prepare them for eventual re-integration into their communities," Dyer said, adding that government sources had indicated that another 200 former child soldiers could arrive at the centre over the next month.

The children have all expressed a desire to be reunited with their families and communities, and many of them want to return to school.

"I lost both my parents and only one of my sisters survived," said 15-year-old Mbarushimana. "We were forced to join the rebel forces and to perform tasks like water collection, food preparation and carrying soldiers' loads. I am happy to be back in Rwanda - I feel safe and would like to resume school activities."

UNICEF led the first inter-agency mission to Gisenyi after the roads were opened on 1 June. Once the government had set up the solidarity camp in early July, UNICEF immediately provided basic items for the children, including clothes and food. UNICEF also successfully urged the government to separate the children from the adults.

With the children now in rehabilitation, UNICEF is working with:

  • the International Committee for the Red Cross on tracing and family reunification
  • the World Food Programme on food and nutrition concerns
  • the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children (UK) regarding non-formal education and psycho-social support

"We don't believe the children should stay in Gitagata for more than six months," UNICEF's Dyer said. "While we try to locate their families, all possible measures are being taken to provide them with the care and protection they deserve - both now and later, when they return home. That's their right."

* * *

For further information, please contact:

Gerry Dyer, UNICEF Senior Programme Officer, Rwanda gdyer@unicef.org
(250) 0830-2533

Donata Garrasi, UNICEF Protection Officer, Rwanda dgarrasi@unicef.org
(250) 0840-6323

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York, dgarrasi@unicef.org
(212) 326-7261

For more on UNICEF child protection programs, visit www.unicef.org

Child Protection issues will also be on the agenda at the UN Special Session on Children, to be held September 19-21 in New York. Find the latest at www.unicef.org/specialsession


UNICEF urges demobilization/reintergration of child soldiers Tues. 29 Oct.
UNICEF negotiates with LTTE for recruited children Thurs.20 June
UNICEF calls for release of child soldiers by LRA Tues. 5 Mar
UNICEF hails new treaty banning child soldiers Tues. 12 Feb. 2002


Ex-child soldier addresses Security Council Tues., 20 Nov
UN leaders hail new step banning children as soldiers Tues.20 Nov
Five months later, child soldiers go home to Sudan, Wed., 29 August
Ex-child soldiers begin new lives in Rwanda Mon, 20 August
Sri Lankan children still recruited for wars Friday, 20 July
Sierra Leone releases 150 more child soldiers Monday, 4 June
Côte d'Ivoire intercepts child soldiers from Burkina Faso June
In Angola children released, but worry persists Sat, 26 May
Hundreds of child soldiers freed in Sierra Leone
Friday, 25 May 20
In Angola, a call for release of 60 abducted children Tues., 8 May
UNICEF renews aid for children in Sierra Leone Thurs , 19 April
Carol Bellamy on the airlift of child soldiers in Sudan Tues, 27 Feb
2,500 demobilized child soldiers out of Sudan
Tuesday, 27 Feb
UNICEF finds 163 Congolese child soldiers in Uganda
Tuesday, 20 Feb
UNICEF assesses Congolese child soldiers in Uganda Wed, 14 Feb
UNICEF applauds agreement with Uganda on child soldiers Fri, 9 Feb
Children in armed conflict to the Panel on Optional Protocol Wed., 31 Jan
Security council debates issue of children in war
Wed, 26 July
Angola: Call for immediate release of 21 abducted children Fri, 14 July


Sudan rebels give UNICEF a guarantee on child soldiers, Oct 24
Bellamy in Winnipeg on war-effected children
Wed, 13 Sept
Graça Michel calls for an end to impunity against war crimes Wed., 13 Sept
UNICEF hails new Security Council decision on children and war Fri, 11 Aug
Bellamy to Security Council on protection of children in conflict Wed, 26 July
Hague Appeal for Peace: Children as catalysts for peace Wed., 12 May


To the Humanitarian Issues Working Group: the catastrophe in Kosovo Tues. 6 Apr
To the Security Council: A peace and security agenda for children Fri., 12 Feb

The UN General Assembly will hold its final Special Session of 2001 in September, focusing exclusively on children. At least 69 heads of state and government have so far confirmed their attendance at the Special Session on Children, with another dozen having expressed firm interest, making it by far the largest summit of world leaders this year. for further information, visit: www.unicef.org/specialsession

People who care about the abuse and exploitation of children can make their voices count by logging on to www.gmfc.org and voting for the top three priorities for children around the world. Millions have already taken part. The total count will be presented to world leaders at the UN Special Session on Children, sending the message that the world's citizens care about children and expect governments to keep the promises they make to them.