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Burundi’s last child soldiers homeward bound toward a new life

© UNICEF Burundi/2009/Gonzalez
Newly provided with civilian clothing, former child soldiers at Gitega Transit Centre in Burundi prepare to board a bus to be reunited with their families.

By Olalekan Ajia

GITEGA, Burundi, 15 May 2009 – This week, 136 former child soldiers separated from Burundi’s last rebel group, the Forces Nationales de la Libération (FNL), left the Gitega Transit Centre to rejoin their respective families in Bujumbura Mairie, Bujumbura Rural, Bubanza and Gitega.

The clearly elated returnees, including two girls, were the first of some 340 children formerly associated with the FNL to be sent homeward after psychosocial reorientation. They leave behind 204 others, including four girls, who are scheduled to leave in their turn on 18 and 20 May.

Since their arrival from FNL assembly areas in early April, the children had undergone psychosocial counselling on respect for child rights, peaceful cohabitation in their communities and prevention of HIV/AIDS. The sick also received medical attention.

© UNICEF Burundi/2009/Gonzalez
A demobilized Burundian child soldier savours the joy of freedom on the bus ride back to his home community.

In-kind support and schooling
According to the director of the Gitega centre, Romain Ndagabwa, each child’s family will receive a total of about $330 over the next 18 months, not in cash but in kind, as agreed by the children and their families.

Those who return to school will be educated free of charge; the same applies to those who choose vocational training and wish to set up their own business.

Meanwhile, each former child soldier’s return package includes a new pair of shoes and socks, jeans, a belt and a shirt, in addition to 10 kg of rice, 10 kg of beans, 2 kg of sugar and – to ease their travel – two loaves of bread, one tin of sardines, bottled water and soap.

Demobilization and reintegration
UNICEF, the Integrated Office of the United Nations in Burundi, South Africa’s facilitation team for the Burundi peace agreement, and the African Union have supported the Government of Burundi’s efforts to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers. The World Bank and the Governments of France and Spain have provided financial aid for this process.

However, 44 children associated with the ‘dissident’ faction of the FNL are still waiting at two assembly areas for their turn at psychosocial reorientation and family reunification.



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