The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan

A Survey of Programs on the Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers

2. Country Profiles
2.1. El Salvador

2.1.1. Current State of Armed Conflict

The civil war in El Salvador officially lasted from 1980 to 1992, but it stemmed from more than a century of violent and repressive rule by the oligarchy and the army. Since the country's independence from Spain in 1821, demands for political and economic rights by popular movements of peasants, students, workers and minorities were met by terror and violence. El Salvador's history of oligarchic control is set against the lack of land rights (common land was officially expropriated in 1882), poverty, and debt for the peasant majority follows the same pattern of repression and resistance like its neighbors in Central America.

The resistance frequently cited the 1932 massacre, La Matanza, of approximately 30,000 peasants carried out in pre-emptive retaliation for planned revolt as the pivotal event in raising mass consciousness. Among those killed in the massacre was the communist peasant leader Augustin Farabundo Marti, whose name and cause was later, appropriated by the rebel coalition Frente Farabundo Marti Liberacion Nacional (FMLN). The 1932 massacre discouraged the popular sectors for some time, but during the following decades they continued to organize protests for land rights, salaries and genuine democratic government. The conflict was also exacerbated by the Cold War, as the Government of El Salvador began to take advantage of military investments from the United States aimed at preventing the spread of Communism3.

The trigger to civil war in El Salvador is considered to be March 16, 1980, when Archbishop Romero, while saying mass, was assassinated by a death squad in the Capital San Salvador. Such human rights violations became a prominent feature of the civil war4. The Government declared a state of siege, cutting off legal opportunities for social and party activities. At the same time, by 1980, five Guerrilla organizations consolidated under a united command structure, creating the FMLN. And in January 1981, the FMLN launched its first military offensive. FMLN guerrilla's tactics marked the decade of civil war and sabotage in urban areas while the Forces Armada de El Salvador (FAES) and death squads targeted the civilian support base. Heavy repression by the Government was especially devastating during the first phase of the war. More than 17,000 people were reported assassinated between 1981 and 1983. By 1983, 70,000 Salvadorans were in the Mesa Grande refugee camp in Honduras. Through the early phases of the war, 890,000 fled to Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, and about 500,000 were internally displaced this is in addition to an estimated 57,000 people who died during the civil war.

2.1.2. Domestic Framework for Protection of Children

Salvadoran law provides for compulsory military service, with 18 years being the legal age of recruitment. During the civil war however, emergency legislation allowed for voluntary enlistment from the age of 16. But it is widely known that both the FAES and FMLN recruited children, including those less than 16 years of age. Most former soldiers who were recruited as youths report that they were recruited during mass conscription drives from poor areas, buses, schools and urban gathering places such as movie theaters and football grounds. A mother's association, CODEFAM, reported a few cases where families who resisted the recruitment of their sons were killed. A veteran association also reported that many of them were recruited at the age of 15 while walking to school, and that the FAES regularly came in trucks to take all youths who looked physically old enough. The youngest FAES youth was 13 years old at the time of recruitment, according to these reports. Children and youth did not actively serve with complementary forces of the National Guard, National Police, Treasury Police, or civilian defense efforts but there were many reports of children serving as messengers and informers. UCA/UNICEF data on the function of child soldiers reflect their differentiation between combatant and support roles. This is best represented in the table below.

Table 1: Functions carried out by child soldiers during the war in El Salvador5.

Combatant Messenger Logistics Cook Communications Sanitation

Male 64.3% 24.5% 9.7% 0% 1.5% 0%
Female 23.7% 10.3% 15.5% 22.7% 14.4% 13.4%
Date of Birth

Before 1976 61.2% 7.1% 8.2% 5.1% 14.3% 4.1%
1976 to 1979 51.8% 21.8% 10% 9.4% 1.8% 5.3%
After 1979 4.0% 56% 36% 4% 0% 0%
Armed Group

FMLN 48.2% 20.9% 12.2% 7.9% 6.1% 4.7%
FAES 100% -- -- -- -- --

Released 39.9% 28.4% 15.3% 7.1% 5.5% 3.8%
69.1% 5.5% 5.5% 8.2% 6.4% 5.5%

Although there is no strong domestic policy for the protection of children in El Salvador, advocacy efforts in this sphere illustrate some of the possible avenues to prevent and protest forcible recruitment of children. This gained recognition for child soldiers in demobilization and reintegration programs. Despite some success in protesting recruitment and abuses and early efforts to include underage combatants in demobilization and reintegration program, the specific needs and rights of child soldiers largely were ignored in El Salvador. Advocacy efforts and recommendations to include children failed to mobilize political will at a high enough level during the peace negotiations and demobilization planning. This experience highlights the need to work closely with the broad range of actors engaged in the peace process and demobilization planning, as well as the need to support civil society in protecting children.

In El Salvador, there were many instances where civil society sought to prevent and protest the recruitment of children. Many officials and organizations acknowledged that, while they knew child recruitment was against Salvadoran law and international treaty obligations, the circumstances of a civil war created "too many other problems to worry about." Yet, a number of groups overcame the fear of speaking out and made many efforts to protest the recruitment of children, despite the history of violent repression of unions and other associations.

Civil society organizations, such as the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES), woman's rights and mother's associations (COMADRESS and CODEFAM) undertook a number of measures to protest child recruitment. They took testimony from mothers whose sons had been forcibly recruited, organized demonstrations and hunger strikes, and appealed to the parliament and leadership.

Table 2. Recruitment patterns of FAES and FMLN during the war in El Salvador6

Recruiting forces 10 years or less Between 10 and 14 years 15 years or older Median age
FMLN 18.1% 75.3% 6.5% 12 years
FAES 0% 20.0% 80.0% 15.8 years

2.1.3.The dimensions of the problem of child soldiers

In the absence of formal reintegration supports for child soldiers' programs and projects, many former child soldiers took advantage of community-based activities that include cultural activities, sports, health education, and mental health programs. Mental health programs included five months of group therapy sessions to encourage remembrance, expression, and reflection, and were supported by four Salvadoran NGOs and Swedish Save the Children whose support were particularly beneficial for former child soldiers. In addition, the family was another key element in their reintegration. However, long-term assessment of the effects of excluding child soldiers from the peace process revealed considerable bitterness and widespread gang and other violence. In a 1998 survey, UNICEF found that 71 percent of former child soldiers said that "nothing" had helped them in their transition to civilian life7. Although family reunification and community life helped children somewhat, El Salvador's experience illustrates the critical importance of including children's programs in the peace process and, socio-economic reintegration programming.8

2.1.4. Measures taken to address problem by:

a) Government
The 1992 peace accords required the government, in consultation with the FMLN, to create and implement a reintegration program for all ex-combatants. Following an Executive Decree on January 30, 1992, the demobilization aspects of the National Reconstruction Plan (NRP) were administered by the Secretariat for National Reconstruction (SNR)9. The SNR administered the reintegration of other programs targeted to an estimated 45,000 combatants from regular and irregular military and security forces. They also were intended to help rehabilitate target municipalities in the most war-affected areas, where beneficiaries would largely be returning refugees and others who had been internally displaced.

b) UN agencies
Serious attempt was made by the researcher to reach the UN agencies on the ground to make information available for this survey. However, it was not easy accessing that information in time for this report. Accurate information might start to arrive after the completion of this survey. Hence, the importance of the continuation of this work.

c) External Donors
Major donors, with USAID being the largest, and the United Nations played critical roles in facilitating the negotiations establishing the reintegration program and implementation. UNDP assumed an important leadership role in coordinating donor activities, and served as a neutral party in resolving implementation problems between SNR and the demobilizing forces.

d) NGOs
UNDP was requested late to support the material and program needs of the concentration areas. The lack of provisions for the concentration areas was a major shortcoming of the 1992 Chapultepec Accord. The FMLN requested the support of ONUSAL and UNDP for the concentration areas in February 1992 and, UNDP formulated an emergency appeal by March 5, 1992. The appeal established a Trust Fund of more than $3 million. The European Community provided funding, again of more than $3 million, directly to the implementing NGOs, or CARITAS and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). UNDP's response, the Emergency Program for Persons in Process of Demobilization in El Salvador, aimed to provide basic living conditions for FMLN soldiers during their encampment, and provided shelter, food, health care, literacy and basic education.

Under the UNDP program, MSF implemented the basic infrastructure component, including potable water systems, latrines, temporary shelters, dining and kitchen areas, and health care centers. UNDP supplied a mattress for each ex-combatant to complement beds provided by the European Community. MSF provided two doctors and four technicians to support immediate first-aid needs. The Pan-American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) implemented the primary health care component of the program. The PAHO/WHO project did not begin until July 20, 1992, after the first phase of demobilization. However, by August, more than 6,000 FMLN members had received medical examinations; 27.6 percent required specialized treatment. PAHO and the WHO quickly realized that disabilities and other war-related injuries were inadequately anticipated by the project. The Government of Sweden provided additional funds to meet dental health needs.

The food aid component featured joint support by UNDP and the European Community, and was implemented through CARITAS and F-16. The World Food Programme (WFP) calculated food requirements and provided monitoring. This project, which provided literacy and basic education courses in some 70 classrooms established in the concentration areas, was agreed upon with the Ministry of Education and implemented by the University of El Salvador and F-16. FMLN troops carried out surveillance, food preparation and nursing support activities during encampment. Of the former FMLN child soldiers interviewed, 28 percent reported that patrol duty was their most significant activity during encampment, and 19 percent reported working as a cook. Another 22 percent indicated that training and remedial academic classes were the most significant activity. UCA/UNICEF data on the functions of child soldiers reflect the different between combatant and support roles.

The table below shows activities and programs under-taken by UN agencies and NGOs in support of former child soldiers in El Salvador.

Table 3: Activities performed by UN agencies and other NGOs former child soldiers during the DDR process in El Salvador10.

Entity Total number of ex-combatants demobilized # Of child soldiers demobilized Activity In cooperation with Source of Funding Long-term Short-term #Of staff
CARITAS and GTZ Primary numbers of ex-combatants held by CARITAS and GTZ were not accessible at this time. Number of child soldier soldiers cared for was not obtained due to time constraints Food Aid MSF, GTZ, F-16, WFP and UNDP UNDP 1992-1996 -- --
PAHO/WHO Number of injured ex-combatants was not obtained in time for this report Number of former child soldiers treated by these health agencies was not accessed in time for the survey report Primary Health Care -- WHO 1992-1996 -- --
UNICEF UNICEF is in the process of finalizing a report on the total number of ex-combatants demobilized and therefore accurate number could not be obtained at this juncture. A request was made regarding the total number of former child soldiers that are taken care off in this sector; however, the researcher is still to hear from the UNICEF offices in the field. Mine-awareness SRN USAID 1992-1996 -- --
ASCISAM Although numbers exist, there was figure provided by the NGO concern The NGO involved did not acknowledge whether they any figure with regard to former child soldiers Mental Health UCA UN 1992-1998 -- --
ICRC ICRC is still compiling the final figures. There was no accurate number provided this time by the ICRC Basic living conditions MSF and UNDP UNDP 1996-1998 -- --

While most child soldiers were marginalized after demobilization, there were other factors that presented a more positive perception of long-term reintegration. The table below shows the percentage of the sources of support for child soldiers.

Table 4. Sources of psychological support for former child soldiers during the DDR period in El Salvador11

Person or thing
most important to
social reintegration.
Nothing Family Friends Community/neighbors A project Others

Male 2% 82.1% 10.2% 2% 1.5% 2%
Female 2.1% 87.6% 8.2% 0% 1.5% 2%
Armed Group

FMLN 1.8% 84.2% 9.7% 1.4% 1.4% 1.4%
FAES 6.7% 80% 6.7% 0% 0% 6.7%
Total 2% 84% 9.6% 1.1% 1.4% 1.7%

2.1.5. Impact of measures

Given the involvement of UN agencies and Government, support for demobilizing soldiers in El Salvador was rapidly organized under the reintegration program of the National Reconstruction Plan (NRP). The international community provided significant assistance for the post-conflict recovery in El Salvador and Latin America region. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) initiated a regional program, which lasted from 1989 to 1995, known as Development Program for Refugees, Displaced and Repatriated Persons in Central America (PRODERE), which focused on war-affected areas. This program emphasized capacity building and is considered the first development program to include a human rights component. In El Salvador, PRODERE created 800 inter-institutional committees for local development.

In a related effort, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) initiated the International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA). CIREFCA supported the revitalization of returnee communities, and is credited with initiating the community-based rehabilitation scheme known as Quick Impact Projects (QIPs). A meeting of CIREFCA was held in El Salvador in April 1992 and featured, with UNHCR and UNDP support, one of the first important dialogues between the Government and local NGOs.

PRODERE was eventually integrated into the CIREFCA framework, with UNDP taking over the lead agency role from UNHCR in 1993. Both processes are credited with linking relief, rehabilitation and development efforts, and with having a substantial impact, on reconciliation in Central America. While the economic aspect of the projects had limited impact, the political approach of PRODERE and CIREFCA is considered to have strengthened civil society and sustainable forums for development. UNICEF raised the profile of children's protection concerns through a mine-awareness program (Poryecto de Prevencion de Accidentes por Minas y Artefactos Expolsivo (PAM) that involved collaboration with military leaders from both FAES and FMLN.

3 The United States provided over US$1 billion of direct military assistance during the 1980s.

4 The 1993 UN Truth Commission found that 85% of human rights violations were committed by agencies of the State and 5% by FMLN.

5 Lessons Learned from Angola and El Salvador. Part III: El Salvador Case Study.

6 The 1995 F-16 study, entitled "Los Nizos y.J.: venes Ex-combentes en su Proceso de Reinserci.: na a la Vida Civil _, was prepared with the support of a Canas Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) psychologist and Radda Barnen (Save the Children Sweden). The report was developed from a survey on the mental health of 538 child ex-combatants of the FMLN. The survey was carried out in 4 former conflict zones through methodologies of group interviews, drawing sessions and games.

7 The Leskinen, Reetta, Child soldiers in El Salvador, Questionnaire response prepared for the United Nations study on the impact of armed conflict on children. Radda Barnen, January 1996.

8 The term child soldiers is understood to be anyone less than 18 years of age and engaged in any capacity with an armed group. Programs and reporting on El Salvador often used the term "youth combatants" instead of child soldiers.

9 While the SNR was given cabinet level status, the SNR and overall NRP were implemented under the Ministry of Planning. The majority of NRP financing ($943 million of which some $298 million was for the SNR) was oriented to initiates such as bridge and hydroelectric repairs and a poverty alleviation program of the Inter-American Development Bank. In fact, USAID was the sole donor to the SNR as other donors, in particular the EEC, were concerned that the SNR excluded of the interests of the beneficiary population.

10 The Demobilization and Reintegration of Child Soldiers: Lessons Learned from Angola and El Salvador Part III: El Salvador Case Study.

11 Ibid

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