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UNICEF and partners support reintegration of child soldiers in Chad

© UNICEF/2010/Sweeting
Former child soldier Dowa Samna now works in a garage in N'Djamena, after being demobilized from the Chadian National Army when the authorities discovered his true age.

By Salma Zulfiqar

A regional conference on the recruitment and use of children in armed forces and groups will take place 7-9 June in N’Djamena, Chad – organized by UNICEF and the Government of Chad to seek international commitments on ending the use of child soldiers and better providing for their re-integration and care. Here is a related story.

N’DJAMENA, Chad, 28 May 2010 – For Dowa Samna, 19, working at a garage in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, is a far cry from his former life in the armed forces. The former child soldier recalls that conditions in the military were rough. “We did not eat regular meals,” he says, “and we had to share everything.”

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Dowa joined the Chadian National Army when he was 16 but was demobilized a year later when the authorities discovered his true age. “We were so relieved when Dowa came home. We were so afraid he would never come back,” says his father, Gong-na Samna.

Commitment to Paris Principles

Decades of conflict in Chad have left children like Dowa vulnerable to recruitment by armed forces and rebel groups. According to Chad's Ministry of Defense, 7 to 9 per cent of those released from rebel groups in 2009 were minors.

© UNICEF/2010/Sweeting
Souleymane Adoum Izak (foreground) now works at a hotel in N’Djamena, a major change from the seven years he spent as a child soldier fighting with a rebel group in eastern Chad.

But there is reason for hope. Dowa’s release from the army followed a 2007 agreement between UNICEF and the Government of Chad to intensify efforts aimed at getting children out of armed groups and forces and back into society.

This accord, in turn, followed Chad’s signed commitment to the Paris Principles, an international agreement to stop the recruitment of children in combatant and non-combatant roles.

Tools for reintegration

In accordance with the Paris Principles, under-age recruits enter a UNICEF-sponsored rehabilitation process when members of Chadian rebel groups are captured, or when the groups sign peace deals with the government. The authorities also pay about $830 to each rebel fighter who demobilizes.

Demobilized youths are brought to interim care centres in N’Djamena that are run by the non-governmental organization CARE International. At the centres, they receive psychological counselling and learn skills to help them reintegrate into society.

Since 2007 more than 800 children have gone through this UNICEF-supported process.

‘Back to a normal life’

Another former child soldier, Souleymane Adoum Izak, 19, spent seven years fighting with a rebel group in eastern Chad. In 2007, when the group negotiated a peace deal with the government, Souleymane laid down his arms and transferred to a rehabilitation centre. He now works at a hotel in N’Djamena.

“Because you are young and you are trained and you spend all your time with the rebels, you still want to fight all the time even though you are civilian. You feel the need to always fight with people,” Souleymane explains.

Getting used to life without a gun is a challenge for many former child soldiers.

“These children have actually been trained to kill,” says UNICEF Representative in Chad Dr. Marzio Babille. “It’s very difficult to overcome the psycho-social aspect of this trauma and get them back to a normal life.”

Like Dowa and many others in similar circumstances, Souleymane has a new lease of life due in large part to the work of UNICEF and its partners. He has not yet reunited with his family but says he now feels that he has a future.




UNICEF's Salma Zulfiqar reports on the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers in Chad.
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