The rehabilitation of child soldiers

The rehabilitation of child soldiers is the most difficult aspect. It is an attempt to give a different future to boys and girls marked by terrible experiences. After the end of several conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa, tens of thousands of child soldiers were sent home. Very often, however, these children, recruited in refugee camps, do not have a family. They either lost it or have killed members of their own community and, for this reason, it is impossible for them to return to their village. UNICEF and several NGOs are helping the children enter temporary facilities for a period of adjustment; here they attend professional training courses, to have new job opportunities.
Psychological problems should not be undermined. Children that committed cruel crimes are marked by these experiences for their entire life: their psychological recovery, therefore, is essential for a new life. In many poor countries, where there are very few professionals, this objective seems unattainable.
In order to face the problem, the western approach, which prefers individual therapies but, because of its high cost, is not very effective, has been rejected. What’s more, the foreign staff did not know the local culture and the adopted therapy was not properly targeted. A shift to form local staff and to develop community methods was decided. These strategies gave good results in Rwanda, Uganda, and Sierra Leone where thousands of people were involved in activities (songs, dances, and drawings) that could relieve the sufferings generated by the tragic memories.
During the conflicts, schools were the facilities most affected. Therefore, reconstruction is vital. The return to the classrooms is very important in the recovery process. Besides, during the lessons it is possible to inform the children about the dangers of the anti-personnel mines, the most dangerous diseases, etc.
dos42Child soldiers are usually surrounded by mistrust and hatred, since they were often forced, during their baptism of fire, to kill people of their own village. It is even more difficult to rehabilitate girls, who were kidnapped and raped by soldiers or rebels. According to UNICEF, the rate of girls’ participation to the rehabilitation programmes is between 8 and 15% and thousands of young girls are excluded from every form of assistance. Sometimes the programmes provide assistance only for former fighters, excluding whoever was forced to follow soldiers and rebels.
One of the main problems for the proper application and implementation of the disarmament and rehabilitation process is the lack of funds. Unlike short-term interventions, which give a lot of visibility, the long-term ones do not have the necessary funds, because after one emergency there is immediately another.
For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo bad planning, delays in the disbursement of funds, and bad management caused the exclusion of 14,000 child soldiers from the programme. Besides, only the end of the conflict can assure that the children, once they are demobilized, will not be recruited again. According to Amnesty International, in Congo, around half the former child soldiers, who in North Kivu were reunited with their families, were allegedly utilized again by the guerrilla movements. Besides, according to Amnesty, “It is precisely their previous experience in the armed groups that makes these children recruits of great value and exposes them to greater dangers.” The sun is already down, the main street of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, is full of dust and people. Francis is sitting at the bar. He was 15 years old, when joined the rebels. He, too, passed through the rehabilitation project, called Support to War-Affected Youth Programs, he learnt carpentry. Francis looks at the street and sees his leader’s teenage son flying around the city on a shiny motorcycle, with expensive clothes. “When I think of the five years I spent in the bush, killing people and being shot at, I feel stupid. We were giving our young lives for people who won’t remember how they got where they are,” Francis said sadly.
Michael Stern


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