The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan

A Survey of Programs on the Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers

1. Introduction

Over the last two decades, it is estimated by several human rights reports that close to 2 million children have been killed; more than 4 million children have been disabled, over 1 million orphaned; over 300,000 girls and boys have served in armies and rebel groups as fighters, cooks, porters, spies, laborers and sex slaves; and over 10 million children are psychologically scarred by the trauma of abduction, detention, sexual assault and witnessing the brutal murder of family members. In further evidence, various studies indicate that the magnitude and scope of child participation in conflicts around the world is unacceptably high and increasing. During the past decade, the use of children under 18 years old as soldiers and in support roles in armed conflict has increased dramatically. The 1999 report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG/CAC) states that children are "participating in over 30 armed conflicts around the world as frontline combatants, porters, sexual slaves, messengers or spies" (Otunnu, 99)1. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that at least 300,000 children are currently serving as soldiers in 50 areas of conflict around the world (McCallin, 98).

Increasingly children serve as combatants or as cooks, informants, porters, bodyguards, sentries, and spies. Many child soldiers belong to organized military units, wear uniforms, and receive explicit training; their lethality enhanced by the widespread availability of lightweight assault weapons. Other children participate in relatively unstructured but politically motivated acts of violence, such as throwing stones or planting bombs. The problem of child soldiers is especially severe in developing countries, in which children constitute nearly half the population and in which children are often reared in a system that mixes war, poverty, violence, hunger, environmental degradation; and political instability.

The use of children in armed conflict is global in scope, a far greater problem than suggested by the scant attention it has received. Child soldiers are found from Central America to the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, and from Belfast in the north to Angola in the South. The problem defies gender boundaries. The use of child soldiers violates international norms. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed in 1989 and ratified by more than 160 nations, establishes 15 years as the minimum recruitment age. In fact, most countries have endorsed an Optional protocol that boosts the minimum recruitment age to 18 years. But in the face of armed conflict, military units in some nations, whether governments or rebels often pay attention to age.2 Beyond that, many military groups, governmental and rebel, make no attempt to document or accurately report the ages of the children they recruit. And former child soldiers are often reluctant to identify themselves because they fear rejection by their communities or retribution from their former commanders or from those whom they once attacked.

With the recent resolution of civil conflicts in several conflict zones of the world, the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants has emerged as an important issue for various NGOs, donor Governments and UN agencies. The transition from war to peace is not easy because disarming combatants and reintegrating them into a new civilian life is politically sensitive and fraught with risk. The situation is complicated further when it is child soldiers that are involved. The unique needs of children regarding demobilization and reintegration into the society from which they came vary according to the culture they left (including economic and social factors), their gender, the side they represented, and the functions they performed while serving as child soldiers. 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 or normal life.

While this survey is fundamental in itself, it underscores the Government of Japan's commitment and efforts in the strategic formulation of DDR programs for former child soldiers, the purpose of this survey report is to provide an overview of issues involved with the programs implementation to former child soldiers in many regions of the world. The survey is confined to a few countries of the world to elaborate the principal activities and distinctive features of the programs/projects aimed at addressing the problems faced by UN agencies and NGOs in the reintegration efforts of former child soldiers. Given time constraints, there will be a simple review of the projects currently in operation and the ones that has been concluded. Analysis of El Salvador and Sierra Leone will provide an overall character and different stages of DDR programs and their implementation. This survey provides data that are available from the UN, NGOs and other actors' documents on the DDR and it programming from the field as well as from the Headquarters. This survey is divided into four main parts country profiles, lessons learned, challenges and recommendations; including a proposal of a policy advisor post for consideration by the Government of Japan. This policy advisor position consists of the terms of reference and a budget for the implementation of networking and accurate data collection.

The main themes are subdivided into sub-sections to include: current state of armed conflict, domestic framework for protection of children, the dimensions of the problem of child soldiers, measures taken to address the problem and impact of the measures. The survey draws on SRSG/CAC, UNICEF, NGOs and other expert's reports on the subject of former child soldiers.

1 Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (1999) Protection of Children affected by armed conflict. Document #A/54/430, NY: United Nations.

2 The current international minimum age for military recruitment and participation in armed conflict, in both international human rights and humanitarian law, is 15 years. Efforts are continuing to raise this minimum age to 18 years in an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The African Charter on the Rights and welfare of the Child, which has not yet entered into force, sets 18 as the minimum age for both recruitment and participation in armed conflict.

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