3. Lessons Learned
1. If international and regional donors, organizations, political leaders, peace makers and warring parties are not prepared to pay the price of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, then even well laid plans by the most well-informed experts will fail. As was the case in Liberia, too much skepticism and withholding of resources seriously undermined preparation, which inevitably led to flawed implementation of programs dedicated to former child soldiers.
2. Lack of political will and resources for encampment meant that plans to hold children long enough to assess their condition were gradually scaled back to an extent that only a fraction of the former child soldiers, those who declared themselves unaccompanied could be accommodated, leaving the vast majority of children vulnerable to the very commanders who had recruited them in the first place. In this way, the goal of demobilization to break the command structure and facilitate reintegration is seriously undermined.
3. Lack of the inclusion of specific standards for the demobilization of children as a special subset of fighters with exceptional needs. It has been widely suggested that unlike the case in Liberia, future peace agreements should detail the modalities of disarmament and demobilization to the greatest extent possible so as to avoid the politicization of the DDR process. In their formulation, all disarmament and demobilization policies should be informed by child-related agencies and guided by the best interests of the child as set forth in the International Convention on the Rights of Child.
4. Children cannot be effectively demobilized in 12 or even 24 hours. Due to their young age and dependence on the factions, some form of encampment without solicitation, even if only for a week for those who know their parents' whereabouts with longer provisions made for those awaiting reunification is necessary not only to protect the children from commanders who might wish to regain control of their lives, but also to assess the child's mental condition. Meaningful assessments of children fresh from wars, scared, confused and mistrustful, cannot be achieved in one sitting. Nor can even the most basic civic education, both of which are prerequisites for successful reintegration.
5. If the forces to be demobilized have more men than weapon, policies should be formulated to allow child fighters to disarm and demobilized with or without weapon. If such a policy is not instituted, children will most likely held back by factions while adults will receive the limited supply of weapons under the process. In Liberia for example, this policy led to the release of many more children than would have been released if they were forced to have a weapon.
6. Special efforts must be made before the demobilization exercise to reach and inform children about the process. As the least able to access information, children are the most easily controlled and deceived about the process of disarmament and demobilization. In particular, efforts must be made to reach young women and the disable who otherwise might not be considered an active part of the fighting forces but are, or were, just as much a part of the war machine and as such need special attention. Such efforts should include, whenever possible, meetings with faction leaders to negotiate the release of children.