The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan

A Survey of Programs on the Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers

6. Conclusion

This survey is not intended to be an equivalent of the recent global survey of child soldiers released by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, and certainly does not purport to have the breadth or the reach of the Coalition document. Instead, by highlighting areas where our knowledge remains deficient, not just in terms of absolute numbers of child soldiers, but in terms of the critical variable that affect their sustainable rehabilitation, it provides pointers for better policymaking by filling these knowledge gaps.

By introducing the concept of the "DDR time-line," this survey could serve as a guide to modalities for future programs and projects, including in developing more targeted and astute resource allocation. However, this survey is beset with certain difficulties and constraints from the start. Most of the data collected predate 1998 and given the 'immediacy' of the issue of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, the fact that up-to-date sources are few and far between presents a significant problem. This is also the area identified by the Office of Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict as a major problem, hence the emphasis on the Research Agenda, which partly aims to fill the data gaps that hamper operational response. As is evident from some of the country profiles that have been left deliberately incomplete in the body of this survey, there are significant gaps in our knowledge. The incomplete areas in the country profiles indicate these gaps; a table that is attached as an annex summarizes these gaps from country-to-country.

The question of accessing information, and learning appropriate lessons as to what worked and why, with regard to programs dedicated for former child soldiers under-scores the difficulty of gathering more reliable and systematic information. Considering the lack of information available to UN and NGOs agencies about what kind of programs are implemented for former child soldiers, it is reasonable to assume that the most immediate healing steps, which generally cannot be taken until after armed conflict ends, involve demobilizing everyone under the age of 18 years, reintegrating them with families and communities, and assisting them in making the transition into civilian life. Effective demobilization programs provide basic needs, such as food, water, shelter and security. This is most often accomplished by locating the members of the child's immediate or extended family and then reuniting them as soon as possible. To offer opportunities for health development and life in the community, reintegration programs may need to place former child soldiers in schools or to provide vocational training that can lead to jobs and financial conditions that mitigate against re-enlistment. However, or knowledge of the types of resources and factors that may allow these programs to achieve these goals remains woefully inadequate.

As indicated earlier, particularly missing is reliable knowledge of what the affected families and communities may themselves consider as their primary requirements for accepting back into their fold their lost children in a manner that does note further strain the resources of these damaged communities. Also almost entirely missing is our understanding of the local norms and values that may provide for a more sustainable basis for rehabilitation than strictly external conceptions of these matters. Being able to assess and understand local norms and structures, and being able to work with them constructively, may enhance the "human security" of individuals and communities to a far greater degree than merely importing transitory relief assistance, or circulating translations of international instruments.

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