Children in the Crossfire: Prevention and Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers Proceedings
2003 International Conference Hosted by Secretary Chao
CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS TABLE OF CONTENTS
Elaine L. Chao, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor
- CONFERENCE SUMMARY
- KEYNOTE SPEAKERS
- Cameron Findlay, Deputy Secretary of Labor
- Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Labor
- Andrew Natsios, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
- Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, United Nations
- Juan Somavia, Director General, International Labor Organization
- Bruce Wilkinson,Vice President of International Programs,World Vision
- Arnold L. Levine, Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs
- Ambassador Richard S.Williamson, U.S. Alternate Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs
- Arnold L. Levine, Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs
- CONVERSATIONS WITH FORMER CHILD SOLDIERS
- PANEL PRESENTATIONS
- Panel A: Prevention
- Panel B: Demobilization
- Panel C: Short-Term Data Collection Methodologies
- Panel D: Reintegration
Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
Mike Wessells, Psychosocial Advisor, Christian Children’s Fund
Guenet Guebre-Christos, Regional Representative, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Nonoy Fajardo, Project Officer, UNICEF/Philippines
Shirley Gbujama, Minister of Social Welfare, Government of Sierra Leone
Manuel Fontaine, Senior Advisor on Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF
Kathy Vandergrift, Senior Analyst,World Vision
Lourdes Balanon, Undersecretary, Ministry of Social Welfare and Development, Government of the Philippines
Adrien Tuyuga, Program Officer, JAMAA/Burundi
Christophe Gironde and Cheaka Toure, International Labor Organization
Lloyd Feinberg, Director, Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, U.S.Agency for International Development
Marie de la Soudiere, Director, Children’s Unit, International Rescue Committee
Virginia Brown, Program Officer, International Organization for Migration/Colombia
Dr. Harendra de Silva, Chairman, National Child Protection Authority, Government of Sri Lanka
- CASE STUDY PRESENTATIONS
- Case Study A: World Vision, Uganda
- Case Study B: Save the Children, Guinea
- Case Study C: International Rescue Committee, Sierra Leone
Charles Watmon, Director, Center for Children of War
Mattito Watson, Director, Child Soldiers Program
Marie de la Soudiere, Director, Children’s Unit
- FILMS AND VISUAL DISPLAYS
The proceedings of Children in the Crossfire: Prevention and Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers were prepared under the guidance and direction of U.S. Secretary of Labor, Elaine L . Chao, Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs,Arnold Levine, and Associate Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs, Martha Newton. The proceedings were edited by Chris Camillo, Meghan Cronin, Marcia Eugenio, Maury Mendenhall, Brianne Musser, Veronica Puente-Duany, Deepa Ramesh, Jill Szczesny and Ami Thakkar of the Bureau for International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor. Contributors to this publication include: former Deputy Secretary Cam Findlay, Lourdes Balanon, Jo Becker, Virginia Brown, Marie de la Soudiere, Dr. Harendra de Silva,Nonoy Fajardo, Lloyd Feinberg, Manuel Fontaine, Shirley Gbujama, Christophe Gironde, Guenet Guebre-Christos, Jane Lowicki, Andrew Natsios, Olara A. Otunnu, Juan Somavia, Cheaka Toure, Adrien Tuyuga, Kathy Vandergrift, Charles Watmon, Mattito Watson, Mike Wessells, Bruce Wilkinson, and Ambassador Richard S.Williamson. Special thanks to David Bersch, Ashley Hoppin, Marty Lueders, Carmel Mulvany, Mary Westring, the International Labor Organization Division of Communications,World Vision, and Wray & Associates for their invaluable contributions to the event. The Department would also like to thank all of the participants who traveled from various countries to share their experiences at the conference, the youth delegates, staff, and teachers at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland who participated in the Parallel Youth Program, and the facilitators, health and security personnel who supported the program. Finally, the Department would like to acknowledge countless others who shared their time, knowledge and experience during the planning and execution of the conference. The proceedings represent an edited version of the event transcript. The views expressed by speakers, panel members, or others representing non-federal entities and contained in these proceedings do not necessarily reflect the official views of the United States Government or the U.S. Department of Labor.”
This publication is dedicated to the memory of Thomas B. Moorhead, former Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor, whose leadership and dedication to the welfare of the world’s children served as a catalyst for the event..
For nearly a decade now, the U.S. Department of Labor has been a leader in the global effort to eliminate abusive and exploitative child labor in developing countries around the world. In 2003, the Department launched a new initiative on one of the most horrific abuses that exists in the world today: the use of children as soldiers. Helping these children is so critical that I went to Africa this past December to formally launch a project to give rescued child soldiers opportunities to reclaim their lives and build better futures. Boys and girls as young as 7 years old participate in armed conflicts throughout the world, as spies, messengers, sex slaves, and combatants on the frontline. Caught in the crossfire, they are taken from the safety of their homes and schools and immersed in the deadly and horrific environment created by war and civil unrest. If and when these children are demobilized or returned to their homes, they face a future of uncertainty and fear. What can we do, as civilized nations, to prevent this terrible crime? And what means exist to help protect these children in the wake of conflict? The U.S. Department of Labor conference, Children in the Crossfire: Prevention and Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers, was organized in response to these important questions. The event brought together hundreds of representatives of foreign governments and the United Nations , members of nongovernmental organizations, technical experts, academics, and others interested in the welfare of war-affected children. Over the course of two days, we heard the experiences and best practices of experts who shared their first-hand knowledge about the most effective ways to combat this heinous practice. And we were joined by a group of very special young people from around the world – former child soldiers – who touched us with their stories and their courage for a better future. They provide hope that with the support of families, communities, and governments, we can help child soldiers to rebuild their lives.
The conference was a reminder to all of us that we can and must do more to help the world’s most vulnerable children.
Elaine L. Chao
On May 7-8, 2003, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao hosted representatives of the world community as they gathered to participate in a U.S. Department of Labor Conference to heighten the global response to the exploitation of child soldiers. At the conference, Children in the Crossfire: Prevention and Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers, Secretary Chao announced a $13 million global initiative to support programs to counter the problem and to help former child soldiers around the world rebuild their lives. The panel discussions and case studies also resulted in the sharing of best practices and successful interventions among the world’s leading child welfare practitioners, government officials, and former child soldiers themselves.
The use of child soldiers as combatants, sex slaves, guards or spies in conflicts worldwide is well documented. More than 300,000 children under 18 are fighting in armed conflicts in over 30 countries worldwide. Of that total, approximately 120,000 can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa. While the majority of child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18, children as young as 7 or 8 years old are known to participate in armed conflicts. Testimonies by former child soldiers describing their fear, grief, and the violence of which they have been a part, have led the international community to condemn this practice as an affront to humanity and a clear violation of international law.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to address the issue is established under International Labor Organization Convention No. 182, ratified by the United States in 1999, which identifies the forced or compulsory recruitment of child soldiers, and other work that is harmful to the health, safety or morals of children, as worst forms of child labor. Between fiscal years 1995 and 2003, the Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs has committed over $300 million in technical assistance to combat international child labor, and is currently working in over 60 countries to advance this commitment and assist vulnerable populations, including child soldiers. Furthermore, in December 2002, the United States ratified the United Nations Optional Protocol on the Use of Children in Armed Conflict, which raises the minimum compulsory recruitment age to 18 for service in State Party armed forces.
Using ILO Convention No. 182 as a starting point, the U.S. Department of Labor, led by Secretary Elaine L. Chao, is taking a leadership role in the global call to action by promoting discussion and analysis of ongoing efforts in war-torn countries to reintegrate former child soldiers and rebuild their communities. The labor perspective of the conference focused special attention on prevention and reintegration programs, including education and job skills training, which contribute to sustainable and equitable economic development, peace, and stability.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
CHILD SOLDIERS GLOBAL INITIATIVE
The Department allocated $13 million to support programs to prevent the use of child soldiers and to support the demobilization and reintegration process for children affected by armed conflict around the world. The global initiative includes funding for the following projects:
- $3 million grant in support of educational training and services for former child soldiers in Northern Uganda. Implementing agency: International Rescue Committee;
- $3 million grant in support of demobilization, rehabilitation, and education services for former child soldiers in Afghanistan. Implementing agency: UNICEF;
- $7 million grant for activities to assist former child soldiers in seven countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Burundi, Rwanda, Colombia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. Project activities will focus on the provision of vocational training and income-generation. Implementing agency: International Labor Organization/ International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC).
Good afternoon. On behalf of Secretary Chao and the U.S. Department of Labor, I would like to welcome you all to the Children in the Crossfire Conference. I would, in particular, like to welcome to Washington, D.C. those of our guests who have traveled great distances to be here with us today from locations all over the world.
We have assembled here an incredibly diverse group of experts and participants for this conference. This group includes representatives of U.S. Government Agencies and foreign government officials, international organizations and local NGOs, members of the local and international media, youth from the Washington area, and youth from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The vision for this conference first came from Secretary of Labor, Elaine L. Chao. It was because of her personal commitment to putting an end to the plight of children recruited by force for use in armed conflicts that this event has become a reality.
Secretary Chao has made the issue of child soldiers a priority on her international agenda. As a former Director of the Peace Corps and former President of the United Way of America, Secretary Chao has brought to the Department of Labor a strong understanding of international affairs and a commitment to helping people overcome adversity.
It is this dynamic combination that makes her leadership on this issue so important.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce her to you now. Please join me in welcoming a voice for the world’s children, my boss, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
Good afternoon, and thank you all for coming.
I’d like to begin by asking you to do something a little unusual. Imagine that you are an African boy only 11 years old. A rebel army captures you and your family and takes you to their camp. When you arrive, you are greeted by the sight of decomposing bodies strewn everywhere. The soldiers shoot your father. Seeing this, another captive tries to escape. She is caught, assaulted, and brutally murdered. You are taken away and forced to fight for the people who killed your parents. When you try to resist, you are mercilessly beaten.
Or imagine that you are an innocent 16-year-old girl abducted by soldiers on the way home from school. You don’t want to go with them, but they threaten to take your clothes and shame you before strangers. You break down in tears, but they are unmoved. You are taken far away from home. You don’t know if you will ever see your parents again.
Or imagine that you are a child, forced to fight for a commander who says – as one commander actually did – “Children make good fighters because they think it’s all a game, so they’re fearless.”
These are just a few of the terrible stories of the world’s 300,000 child soldiers. These young people are forced to fight by government-sponsored armed forces or by other armed groups in more than 30 conflicts around the globe. And we believe these numbers are conservative estimates.
The plight of child soldiers offends the world’s sense of decency and the code of conduct of civilized nations. These children are forced to become soldiers, spies, guards, human shields, human minesweepers, servants, decoys, and sentries. Young girls are forced into prostitution. And when violence fails to intimidate, many children are drugged to make it easier to force them to perform horrendous acts of violence and cruelty. Some victims are as young as 7 or 8, and many more are 10 to 15. Children who are orphans, refugees, or victims of poverty or family alienation are particularly at risk.
But today, by our presence at this conference, we are telling the world in no uncertain terms that these horrors must end. The compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict is a barbaric practice condemned by the community of civilized nations. No child should have to experience the atrocities that child soldiers must face every day of their lives.
This conference sends a message of hope to these children. Over the next day-and-a-half, we will discuss ways to help these children reclaim their lives through education, rehabilitation and reintegration. This conference brings together key stakeholders in the concerned community, which is an important step towards global action. We have hundreds of representatives with us from nations and agencies around the world. I want to recognize the governments, U.N. agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, members of the media, and concerned individuals who have come here to work together. I want to thank each of you for accepting the invitation of the U.S. Department of Labor to participate.
The Department of Labor is involved in this issue for two reasons. First, as you know, the United States is a signatory to the International Labor Organization Convention No. 182. This convention names the forced recruitment of children for used in armed conflict as one of the worst forms of child labor. And second, President George W. Bush believes – as you do – that children have human dignity and must be protected from exploitation.
I pledge to you today that the U.S. Department of Labor will work with our counterparts around the world to help save children from the brutal life of a child soldier. The United States strongly believes that all nations should join together to pursue effective solutions. Many developing nations are showing their commitment to this cause by attending this conference, and we appreciate their participation.
There are two faces of the child soldier issue – the face of despair, and the face of redemption. In the next few moments, I want to show you both faces. First, in some video footage shot in Africa. And then, in the faces and voices of some very brave guests who are with us here today.
First, please join me in watching this video supplied by World Vision about Uganda. In this video, we visit a child soldier rehabilitation center. I want to commend the government of Uganda for its commitment to rehabilitating these children. This video is particularly interesting because it shows children engaging in mock battles. This kind of therapy allows them to safely express their feelings about their experiences. Let’s watch.
As I’m sure you can imagine, overcoming such horrors requires great courage. We are fortunate that nine such courageous young people – former child soldiers – are with us today. These remarkable young people have traveled from all around the globe to present the reality of their experiences as only they can. They are here to bear witness for the children who are still in captivity and cannot speak for themselves. But they can also provide us with a blueprint for change and a message of hope—by proving that it is possible to rebuild shattered lives.
At this time, I want to introduce each of these brave youngsters and ask them to stand as I call their names.
Fabrice, from Burundi. Radjabu, from Burundi. Eider, from Colombia. Berta, from El Salvador. Steven, from Sierra Leone. Emilia, from Sierra Leone. Mohan, from Sri Lanka. Grace, from Uganda. And Paul, from Uganda.
I also want to thank the parents, guardians, and representatives from government and non-profit organizations who accompanied these children to the conference.
Our young guests are participating in a program with students from schools in the Washington area. I’m delighted that young Americans are getting involved in this issue. Exposure to this information will help them gain new insights about the benefits of liberty, basic human rights and the rule of law.
We can’t give child soldiers their childhood back, but we can help them to rebuild their lives. That is why this conference will examine all of the strategies at the community level.
As Secretary of Labor, I have a particular interest in education and job training programs to help rehabilitate former child soldiers. This is the only way to ensure that these brutalized children will someday have a chance to become productive members of their societies. And I also have a strong interest in developing special protections and facilities for young girls, who have particular vulnerabilities that deserve our attention.
Today, I’m pleased to announce that the U. S. Department of Labor is launching a new $13-million global initiative to help educate, rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers.
This initiative includes a $7-million project funded through the International Labor Organizations’s (ILO) International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC). It will develop comprehensive strategies to help former child soldiers in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Colombia. This project builds upon and expands a Department of Labor project in the four Central African countries.
The initiative also includes a $3-million project to address the education needs of former child soldiers and children living in northern Uganda, an area that was featured in the video. Just this morning, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with representatives of the Ugandan Government to launch this program. The Department of Labor looks forward to our future collaboration with the Ugandan Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Welfare, and the Ministry of Education and Sports.
The third part of the initiative is a $3-million project focusing on the education needs and reintegration of child soldiers in Afghanistan. This project will be implemented by UNICEF, an international organization with a long history of helping children.
Child soldiers suffer in many ways – often in silence.
As one young girl said after witnessing the wanton slaughter of men and women,“So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn’t dare cry out loud.”
Child soldiers cannot cry out – but we can speak up for them, with clarity, compassion and resolve.That is why we are here today. As part of our commitment, let us also pledge ourselves to address the root causes of child soldiers, which is the absence of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms – a situation all too prevalent in the world today. I look forward to working with you to give these children back their future, and to bring them the hope and opportunity that is every child’s birthright.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. I want to thank my good friend, Secretary Elaine Chao, for her leadership in this issue in the United States Government and worldwide, an issue of great concern, not only to the Department of Labor and to USAID, but to the President and the First Lady themselves. They have had deep, deep concern about the children who have been victimized during the Afghan campaign and in other civil wars around the world where children are frequently recruited into militias that can traumatize them and make it very difficult for them to be reintegrated back into society.
I've been doing this sort of work, in different positions, for the last 14 years. I have interviewed many child soldiers around the world, some 8, 9, 10, or 12 years old, in the middle of civil wars, sometimes with the crackle of gunfire in the background.
I remember that in Mozambique in 1989, I interviewed a nine year-old boy who had just escaped from one of the rebel armies. I attempted to ask him what he had been through and what he had seen - and this is the first time I had interviewed a child of this age who had been a soldier. He was clearly psychologically traumatized.
I do not know the exact experience of this one young boy, but the research that has been done by the international community, by the Labor Department and by USAID indicates, particularly in Mozambique, that the abuses were horrendous.
One of the recruitment techniques that was used for children is they would drag a child out of the village, put the child's parents in their hut, their home, bar them from leaving with guns, and then drag the child up with a torch in the child's hands to torch their home while they watched their parents burn alive, thinking that they had done it. Of course, they were dragged in to doing it. The idea was, if you can kill your parents, even if you're 6 or 7 years old, you can kill anyone.
When they were demobilized out of the movement after the war was over, many of the children could not speak. They were so traumatized, they were incapable of speech. My predecessor, the director of the office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, my good friend, Julia Taft, brought in Dr. Neil Boothby to begin a therapy program in Mozambique for these thousands of children who had killed five or six people, sometimes including their parents and their brothers and sisters. That program treated thousands of children so they could at least go back into society once again in an organized and systematic way.
We know that the legacy of child soldiers, crime, severe depression, high levels of aggression, extreme introversion, memory loss, inability to concentrate, and sleep disorders all are general phenomena across conflicts around the world.
That was 15 years ago. Mozambique has made an extraordinary recovery from that horrible civil war in which a couple million people died, either were killed or starved to death, in one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. The country has had several democratic elections now, and they are moving along as a model, actually, of democratic development.
We could talk, though, about something happening right now, such as in Uganda with the Lord's Resistance Army, one of the most brutal rebel movements in the world. They have abducted some 14,000 children, some as young as 7 years old. These abductions are brutal, and often accompanied by killings of family members and destructions of their homes. Young girls are given to rebel commanders as wives. Children who try to escape are caught and killed, and other children are forced to do the killing.
Children are forced to beat or trample to death other abducted children. Children who fall behind during the long marches, or resist, are also killed. Many others have been killed in battle or have died from maltreatment, disease, or hunger.
Children are beaten. They are caned. They are forced to beat other children to death, and they themselves sometimes participate in the abductions, which causes severe guilt and trauma among these children.
I could go through a list of the atrocities that have been committed by the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda, but it is now reaching the worst stage of that civil war. Nongovernmental organizations and the Ugandan Government are reporting some of these terrible events surrounding children who have been abducted into the army itself.
A third example is the Sri Lankan civil war, which appears, we hope, we pray, about to end. We thought the rebel movement and the government were going to reach a peace agreement. They tentatively had, and then the agreement broke down last week. We are hoping that the parties involved will be re-energized, because we are preparing a reconstruction program with other donors to assist the Sri Lankan Government to implement a peace accord.
Sixty thousand people have died in that civil war in the last 20 years. Forty percent of the fighting force of the Tamils is under 18 years old. Another suggests this could be as high as 60 percent. Young Tamil girls are often orphaned, and they have been systematically recruited into the movement since the mid-'80s. Many of these girls are called birds of freedom. They are deliberately chosen as suicide bombers because girl children are not checked as often for security purposes, so they can get through lines and security. The movement has used propaganda to encourage every family to give a child or a daughter to the cause. I could go on about the atrocities that have been committed in that civil war.
What we find in many of these conflicts is common patterns of desensitizing the children wherever the civil war is, anywhere in the world, to violence by forcing them to beat or kill other children of their same age, many of them their friends, or other family members. By doing this, they essentially can do away with any of the constraints on violent behavior.
Many children we interviewed after the Mozambiquean civil war had killed six or seven people. These are 8 or 9 year-old children. And once you've done it that many times, it becomes very easy to do it in the future. So the question comes, what do we do? And after the conflict is over, how do we integrate these children back into society so they can become productive citizens?
Let me first say that we do know a set of things that the international community – my friends who are the development ministers in Europe, in the United Nations, in the International Committee of the Red Cross, in the nongovernmental community and the donor aid agencies, like USAID, which has been a leader in this movement for many years – can do to try to deal with this terrible problem. We do know what works and what does not work. Now let me talk about what is essential.
The first is that if we focus our attention exclusively on child soldiers and ignore the needs of all other children, the other children are quick to notice, and it can actually cause problems in the reintegration of the child soldiers back into society. So we need to deal with all of the children who have been victimized, whether they are child soldiers or whether they simply have been the victims of the war itself.
The second thing we need to deal with is a four-point strategy. We call this DDRR. The first is to demobilize the child soldiers. The second is to document what they went through, where they come from, where their families are to try to reunite them -- that's the third step, reunification. The fourth step is reintegration, where a process is put in place to prescribe the right kind of training or therapy, if that's necessary, to bring the child out of a conflict setting, back into family units, back into their village.
The reality is that most demobilized children who were soldiers do not readily admit they were recruited or dragged into it or forcibly brought into the movement, because many of them feel terrible shame and guilt for the acts they were forced to commit, and we have to sort of go through a process to show them that they did not commit these atrocities of their own free will. They were forced into it, and when a child is forced to kill their parents, it's not because they wanted their parents to die; it's because of the evil people who forced them to do these acts of barbarity.
Usually, demobilization benefits are usually too small and reintegration programs are too short to help the children as much as they should be, given what they've been through. I remember interviewing some children during the terrible civil war in Sierra Leone where one of the rebel movements was actually amputating ears and noses off people, gouging their eyes off, cutting their hands off -- they did this of children and of adults too, simply to terrorize them. When I was in the NGO community for 5 years, I was with World Vision and we had, I remember, a program to try to reintegrate the children who had lost limbs.
These were not -- by the way, these were not accidents during the war. They simply went in and would take out a bunch of kids and simply cut off their hands or their arms or their nose to terrorize the community. So you had to deal with the psychological damage, but in many cases, these children, if they lost a foot, let's say, or an arm, their capacity to get married and their capacity to have a productive trade diminished because of the atrocity that had been committed against them.
So it was very difficult sometimes to get these children reintegrated back into the community. I remember we were -- after the Ethiopian civil war, we ran a reintegration program through USAID, and then I worked on it when I was with World Vision, and we were having trouble getting the villagers to accept their sons back into the village who had been child soldiers in a couple of cases that the government had recruited, because they know they had killed people and they didn't want them back because they thought they were dangerous. So our biggest problem was not the program itself; it was getting their own families and their own villages to accept them because that war had been so brutal and so many people had died in it.
The success of any reintegration effort depends on a significant investment in time and energy and attention to creating a receptive environment before the children are reunited with their families. That's one of the lessons we learned in Ethiopia and Mozambique that we are now applying in Uganda and we will shortly, I hope, in Sri Lanka, which is that we have to prepare the villages and the families through training for the reacceptance of their children, or we can have more serious problems because these kids then get even more alienated from the community.
We also have to make sure that we incorporate traditional leaders and religious leaders and civil leaders and make use of customs and beliefs and ceremonies that confer forgiveness and contrition because there are rituals that all of our societies have -- or most societies have -- for people to put what happened behind them.
I know we ran a program in Rwanda after the horrendous genocide there where a million Tutsis were killed by the government in a terrible slaughter over a 4- or 5-month period. And I interviewed a little boy in one of the camps in Goma, and he was sent by his mother to go get bread from the market, and when he came back, his father and mother's bodies were on the ground bleeding to death, his brothers and sisters had all been killed -- and the only thing that saved him was an elderly lady, whose children themselves had been killed next door, took him and they ran, and that's how he survived. But he was clearly emotionally distraught, and we had to have a therapy program within the refugee camps to try to treat some of the symptoms that we saw there.
Schooling and training, keeping the kids off the streets and giving the training that can allow a kid to support themselves if they're orphaned are critical parts of reintegrating children, particularly child soldiers, but just children generally who are the victims of civil wars.
In World War I, 1914 to 1919, about 10 percent of the casualties in that war were civilians and the rest were military. Every war up until the most recent one, the proportions had switched, which is to say, instead of most of the casualties in the 20th century being of soldiers, they've been of civilians, people who are supposed to be protected under international law. Only in this last war have we seen a reverse -- a beginning to reverse that, and we hope in the 21st century, if we have any more wars, it will be combatants who suffer the burden and not children and other civilians. Maybe there is a trend toward a different way of approaching warfare. We believe that may well be the case.
But the point here is that as long as conflicts, particularly civil wars, take place that last a very long period of time, sometimes 20 years -- the Sudanese civil war which I've worked in now for 14 years has been going on since 1983. I know Dr. Garang, John Garang, the leader of the SPLA, very well in the south. I've met many of the children who were orphaned from it, and there's been an effort by the SPLA to reduce the number of child soldiers and not recruit any more. They've done actually very well at that.
But the longer these wars take -- and when they are civil wars, in particular -- the greater the likelihood there will be child soldiers and that international conventions will not be followed, particularly when there are rebel movements and militias and the governments recruit people by simply dragging them off the streets.
I remember during the civil war in Ethiopia, Mengistu's army was fading away, and what he would do is simply drive down the street with a truck in Addis, and any boy that looked old enough to carry a weapon, they simply dragged into the truck. The parents would never even be told where they were, and if they were killed, they were never given notice of it. They simply were given 2 weeks' training, boots, a gun, and they would be put on the front line. We hope that that sort of warfare is behind us, but who knows.
In the meantime, all of us have to work together in an effective way, based on what we already know works, to try to avoid -- minimize the damage to children in the future, limit the number of children who are recruited, and then develop DDRR programs to take the children out of these militias and reintegrate them effectively back into society. Thank you very much.
Distinguished participants: I am delighted to be here today and I should like to thank and congratulate the U.S. Secretary of Labor for hosting this very important conference to heighten the global response to the issue of child soldiers. This conference represents an important opportunity for all of us to work together to stop the use of child soldiers.
I congratulate the U.S. Government for its commitment to the protection of children affected by armed conflict. This has been clearly demonstrated by the U.S. ratification in 1999 of ILO Convention 182 which defines child soldiering as one of the worst forms of child labor and for its recent ratification in December 2002 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict which sets an age limit of 18 years for compulsory recruitment and direct participation in hostilities. I also commend the U.S. State Department for its decision to systematically include a section on child soldiers in its Annual Country Reports on Human Rights – this is a very important development, which once again demonstrates the U.S. Government’s commitment to the protection of children in conflict and post-conflict situations.
I am delighted to see such a distinguished gathering of delegates from the U.S. and other governments, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, academics and think tanks. I am especially pleased to see the participation of young people in this conference and I should like to personally welcome all the young delegates who are here with us today, and in particular those of you from war-affected countries. Your voices, your experiences and your participation with us today are vital to help us understand and address the phenomenon of child soldiers.
The Impact of Conflict on Children
Today, from the Americas to Africa, from Europe to the Middle East to Asia, children are suffering in the midst of armed conflict and its aftermath. This suffering bears many faces: children being killed; children being made orphans; children being maimed; children being uprooted from their homes; children being raped and sexually abused; children being deprived of education and health care; children being exploited as child soldiers; and children being left with deep emotional scars and trauma.
During the 1990s, more than 2 million children have died as a result of armed conflicts; over 1 million have been made orphans; over 6 million have been seriously injured or permanently disabled; and over 10 million have been left with grave psychological trauma. A large number of children, especially young women, have been made the targets of rape and other forms of sexual violence as a deliberate instrument of war. Today, over 20 million children have been displaced by war within and outside their countries and approximately 800 children are killed or maimed by landmines each month.
It is in this context that some 300,000 young persons under the age of 18 are currently being exploited as child soldiers. Girls and boys are fighting as child soldiers with government armed forces and armed opposition groups in more than 30 countries around the world. Most child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18, but children as young as seven have been used as soldiers. Some children are used to fight in the frontline, others are used as spies, messengers, servants and sexual slaves. Children make obedient and cheap soldiers capable of the worst atrocities, including against their own families and communities. Children are vulnerable and easy targets. Children are considered to be dispensable; they are recruited as cannon fodder and are used to clear landmines. The manufacture and widespread availability of inexpensive small arms has also contributed to the problem – it has made it much easier to turn young children into soldiers. Even a ten-year-old can strip and reassemble these light and easy-to-use weapons. Adolescent youth are particularly vulnerable to the lures of combat.Those who survive are often physically injured and psychologically scarred, having lost years of schooling and socialization. When a conflict ends, some are shunned, while others are expected to resume their roles as students, siblings, parents, community members and workers.
What has been done to reverse this trend? What progress has been made to mitigate the impact of conflict on children? Whilst there are still a lot of challenges ahead, significant progress has been made over the past few years to reverse this trend.
Through its Resolution 1261 (1999), the Security Council has formally affirmed that the protection and well-being of children exposed to armed conflict constitutes a fundamental peace-andsecurity concern, which therefore belongs on its agenda. The progressive engagement of the Council has yielded significant gains for children. These include the four resolutions to date devoted to this issue; an annual review and debate on children and armed conflict; the incorporation of child protection into peacekeeping mandates and training; the inclusion of children and armed conflict concerns in country-specific reports; the creation of the role and deployment of Child Protection Advisers (CPAs) in peacekeeping operations; the inclusion of children’s concerns in peace negotiations and accords; direct participation of children in the deliberations of the Security Council; increasing focus on children in post-conflict programs in situations such as Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan; and commitments for the protection of children in conflict and post-conflict situations in countries such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and the Sudan.
In addition, the Security Council recently took a significant stand on the exploitation of children as soldiers. In Resolution 1379 (2001), the Council requested the Secretary-General to provide a list of parties that recruit or use children in situations of conflict on its agenda. This list breaks new ground – for the first time, an official report has specifically named and listed those responsible for brutalizing children in situations of conflict. In requesting this list, the Security Council has sent a strong political message that those who violate children’s rights during conflict cannot do so with impunity and that they will be held accountable for their actions. This is a bold step forward in our global efforts to render unacceptable the exploitation and victimization of children during times of conflict.
Non-governmental organizations and other civil society organizations are also playing a vital role in the protection of children affected by armed conflict including, for example, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, Save the Children, Human Rights Watch and many others.
Several regional and sub-regional organizations, including the Group of Eight, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the African Union have incorporated the children and armed conflict agenda as a priority concern into their policies and programs. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recently established a Child Protection Unit in the ECOWAS secretariat. The Human Security Network, which is meeting this week in Graz, has decided to devote particular attention to the protection of children in armed conflict.And there has been a significant rise in public and official awareness concerning the impact of conflict on children.
Parallel to these developments, tremendous progress has also been made over the last few years to strengthen and codify international norms and standards for the protection of children during conflict. These include:
- The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which sets an age limit of 18 years for compulsory recruitment and direct participation in hostilities, and requires State parties to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment to at least 16;
- The Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court, which classifies conscription, enlistment or use in hostilities of children under 15, as well as attacks on schools and hospitals and grave acts of sexual violence, as war crimes;
- International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182, which classifies child-soldiering as one of the worst forms of child labor and sets 18 as the minimum age for forced or compulsory recruitment;
- The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which prohibits the recruitment or direct participation in hostilities of persons under the age of 18.
- The progress achieved so far is proof that we can chip away at the problem – this trend of abomination can be reversed through serious and concerted measures.
We have now reached a critical juncture in the development of the children and armed conflict agenda. With these gains in place, what should be the next steps in the development of this agenda? The most pressing challenge facing us collectively is how to translate the principles, standards and measures that have been put in place into facts on the ground, into a protective regime that can save children in danger. For this, it is imperative to embark on an “era of application.”
We need a major public awareness campaign on the impact of armed conflict on children. We need to reach universal public repudiation of these practices. We must create a political and social climate which makes the abuse and brutalization of children entirely unacceptable.
We need to promote and disseminate the norms and standards which exist to protect children, and to raise awareness about them on the ground. Similarly, we need to support and strengthen traditional values and norms which provide for the protection of children and women in times of war.
We need to put in place strengthened monitoring and reporting mechanisms to identify the violators and take measures against them. Information received through monitoring and reporting must serve as a trigger for action, a trigger for the application of concerted pressure and targeted measures against violators. When information is received about grave violations against children and no action is taken, this betrays the trust of the children.
Dissemination, advocacy, monitoring and reporting are the key components that an “era of application” must encompass. There are other measures which are critical to translating the “era of application” into a meaningful reality. In particular we need to redouble our efforts to ensure:
- that the concerns of children are included in all peace negotiations and peace accords;
- that the rehabilitation of children becomes a central component of any post-conflict programs of rehabilitation and reconstruction, with focus on the key areas of education, basic health care, nutrition, rehabilitation of child combatants and the special needs of girls – investing in children and youth is the best way to ensure long-term peace;
- the full integration of Children Affected by Armed Conflict (CAAC) issues in the mandates, training and activities of peace operations;
- that the deployment of Child Protection Advisers (CPAs) become a general practice in all peace operations;
- the development and strengthening of the capacity of local actors, especially civil society networks, for advocacy, protection and monitoring – this is the best way to ensure local ownership and sustainability;
- that regional organizations develop and strengthen their policies, advocacy and programs on CAAC agenda;
- that all reports to the Security Council on country-specific situations include the protection of children as a specific aspect of the reports;
- that steps be taken to mitigate the impact on children of illicit commercial exploitation of natural resources in conflict zones;
- That governments systematically include violations against children as part of bilateral monitoring mechanisms;
- We need to reach out to and engage young people, from countries affected by conflict as well as countries in peace, as advocates and participants in the movement for child protection.
In addition, we need to take specific and concerted measures to address the exploitation of children as child soldiers. In this connection, I recommend that priority attention be given to the following areas:
- We need to ensure the provision of sustained and adequate resources for the demobilization of child soldiers and their reintegration and rehabilitation into their communities and families, with focus on the key areas of education and vocational training;
- In armed conflicts, girls are often targeted for rape, abduction and forced recruitment. Yet, their needs are often overlooked during Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs. We need to address the special needs of girls through the provision of explicitly tailored strategies and adequate resources to ensure that girls receive necessary assistance;
- It is critical that we address the root causes of children’s recruitment and participation in conflict, including social, economic, cultural and political factors;
- We should work to promote sub-regional, cross-border initiatives to stop the recruitment and abduction of children;
- We need to focus more attention on the link between the proliferation and widespread use of small arms and light weapons and the victimization of children both as casualties and agents in armed conflicts;
- We need to identify best practices and lessons learned on integrating the specific needs of children in demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration programs;
- We need to consolidate and build upon the ‘list’ established by the Security Council in its Resolution 1379. We need to expand the list and include all situations where children are recruited or used as combatants and we need to ensure that the ‘list’ results in concrete steps for the protection of children. Where substantial progress has not been made, we should consider taking targeted measures against parties; such measures should include the imposition of travel restrictions on leaders and their exclusion from any governance structures and amnesty provisions, a ban on the export or supply of arms, and restriction on the flow of financial resources to the parties concerned;
- And finally, with the establishment of the International Criminal Court, we must work to ensure that individuals responsible for war crimes against children will be among the first to be prosecuted in the new court.
Children represent the hopes and future of every society – destroy them and you have destroyed a society. If we do not address the exploitation of children as soldiers, the cycle of violence will continue. The gains made so far demonstrate that we can reverse this trend. I firmly believe that we all have a role to play in reversing this trend. This conference represents an important opportunity to help reverse this trend. I call upon each and every one of you in your respective capacities to do everything in your power to stop this abomination.
Thank you Secretary Chao and Deputy Secretary Findlay for your commitment and leadership in organizing this conference.
I want to begin with a personal word to you, to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs staff, and to the entire Department of Labor team about your colleague and our friend,Tom Moorhead. Tom was a committed, compassionate public servant. He was a good friend to me and to the ILO. And he was a decent, caring advocate for children the world over. We will miss Tom dearly. But I know his work lives on through all of you. One need only look around this conference to see his imprint and feel his spirit.
Let me also thank the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, for his leadership. And I thank all of the other speakers who have provided such moving testimony to the dimensions of this challenge – and the urgent need to solve it.
In particular, I thank the children for raising their voices. Thank you for sharing your experiences so other children might never know them. Thank you for enlisting in this new fight we wage together for the freedom of young people. Your resilience, your sense of hope, point the way forward for us.
All of our work begins with a vision – a vision of the kinds of societies that we want for our families and our future.
In 1999, the world gave shape to that vision by going on record against abusive child labor. Developed countries and developing countries – employers and workers – joined in the unanimous adoption of Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.
The Convention calls on the ILO to play a key role in ending and preventing children’s participation in armed conflict. In addition, our Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work asks us to help Members ratify and implement the relevant Conventions. In four short years, 137 countries have ratified Convention 182.
By adopting this Convention, and endorsing the Declaration, the members of the ILO agreed that poverty is no excuse for tolerating the worst forms of child labor. Ending abusive child labor is part of the social floor below which no society should fall.
Thanks to the strong support of the American people, the ILO is now working in more than 80 countries around the world – tackling every form of abusive child labor – from outright slavery to hazardous work to child domestic labor.
Our mission is clear: parents to work and children to school. This takes partnership and leadership at all levels. And every day, we are together upholding our values and giving new hope to more children and their families.
Perhaps there is no greater challenge or more pressing charge than freeing the 300,000 children who are caught in the crossfire of conflict.
They are on the front lines; servants of strife and victims of brutality; the objects of violence and vengeance learning to kill, to harm and to destroy. What kind of world is it when children see hope in horror, dignity in revenge, comfort in cold blood?
Right now we seem to be living in two worlds. For many, the world we live in is a good world where women and men, and their children have a good life, a decent life. People prosper and if not, the hope of a better future is still alive. Children are nurtured and encouraged at home and in school. Young people can plan for a future of opportunity and choice.
In different ways and at different standards of living, many people around the world are realizing simple human aspirations of having a job, an income, a home, a family, a reasonable standard of living in a reasonably secure environment.
But there is another world of permanent and fundamental insecurity – physical, human, social, political. Hope has dried up, families cannot nurture, communities are under threat, societies are in peril. A culture of fear, violence and destruction flourishes. It is a world of no jobs, no safety nets, no schools, no way out.
The two worlds co-exist within and between countries. They relate to deep imbalances that prevail today. And when armed conflict is one of the destabilizing forces in an insecure world, children are easy prey for those who would exploit them.
In a disintegrating world, children take refuge where they find it – on the streets, in gangs and in armed groups. Girls and boys can be lured by a promise of dignity, care, and a structured life. And of course, many are coerced into serving, removed from their family, their last vestige of security.
I have always believed one key to understanding challenges and finding solutions is by listening. Today I am proud to release two new ILO studies that seek to understand the root causes of this challenge by listening to children themselves. Those in war. Those who have escaped war. Family members. Local and national leaders.
These new reports cover children in conflict in the Philippines and Central Africa. They detail the reasons the growing number of children have been drawn into battle – including the breakdown of law and order, poverty, unemployment, the failure of education, family pressures.
They highlight the changing nature of warfare and sophisticated light arms used by children. They reveal how children are increasingly used in front-line roles. And they demonstrate how girls are especially vulnerable. Subject to sexual abuse, HIV and other infection – as are boys – they may also end up pregnant and alone.
And their ordeal does not end when they get away. These children commonly face rejection if they return to their homes and communities.
These reports confirm the importance of comprehensive solutions, integrated approaches. They underscore the need for building broad partnerships nationally and internationally for an effective response.
Our studies and years of field experience help guide the way. As we move forward, I believe we need a three-front global battle plan to prevent and end the use of children in armed conflict.
First, enforcement. Conventions and laws are not enough. They have to be known, understood and respected. There are plenty of tough laws on the books, but there is an enforcement gap. The goal is not simply having a law, it is living by it. Awareness raising is key. We are working in nations like Burundi and Rwanda to help governments translate legislation against the use of child soldiers into policies and practice.
Second, it takes practical, targeted strategies to help children overcome their trauma and prepare for a better future. This means counseling. Quality education. Vocational training. Assistance to parents to boost incomes and get decent jobs. We are working in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sri Lanka on reintegrating child soldiers back into peacetime life.
Third, it takes a development strategy to get at the root causes. People are poor. Development is stagnant. Societies are in chaos. We need to connect work and the dignity of work with growth and well-being of families. This includes promoting social and economic reconstruction – poverty eradication, employment and education policies. Essentially, we are talking of building or rebuilding communities and societies.
Our work on the ground is testimony to the key role which the ILO’s decent work agenda must play in this process – it covers the work that children should not be doing, preparing young people to find work, promoting opportunities for parents to have work, and securing dignity for all.
In a larger sense, our work is about making our communities more stable and our world more secure. It is about building a place for all of our children to find peace. This is our vision.
We can make it real. Instead of weapons and war, let us arm our children with opportunity and hope. No girl or boy should have to surrender their childhood to war. Together, let’s win it back.
Thank you. I am the Senior Vice President of World Vision’s international programs group, and we want to welcome you all this afternoon. We are very pleased that the Department of Labor is sponsoring this event and that World Vision is the sponsor of the luncheon this afternoon. We greatly appreciate the Secretary's interest and commitment to children around the world, especially children that are facing armed conflict situations. So thank you very much for coming, and thanks to the Department of Labor for putting on this event.
Through World Vision's work overseas in over a hundred countries, we come in contact with children in very difficult situations, especially children that are facing armed conflict situations.
Personally, I lived 17 years in West Africa, and during those 17 years, I experienced child soldiers in very real ways. I have had experience in Sierra Leone where we were working in the Kenema and Bo area, which is the diamond-mining area of Sierra Leone. On one occasion, we were on a small convoy heading up from the capital city of Freetown, heading into Kenema and Bo. On this road, we were stopped at frequent intervals by children. These were child soldiers, actually. They were inspecting our vehicles. They were children probably the age of my son, who is 13 years old.
As they inspected our vehicle, they were waving around their AK-47's. I would venture to say that they had been either drinking or had some other influence in their system. These are times when you start to see the eyes of a child carrying a weapon, feeling powerful and seeing themselves in a different light than they ever have seen themselves previously in their own lives. It was really a time when I got to know that these children didn't have a chance to live out their childhood. They didn't have a chance to actually be socialized in a normal way that children would be socialized, and it was very disturbing to see that.
I was also at one time in the eastern part of Congo, and got caught in the crossfire between child soldiers who were arguing over a certain piece of an asset.There were a couple of vehicles they were arguing over, and a firefight broke out. We were in the middle of this firefight among children, firing bullets past us,and these children looked like children who should be in school. Here are children who should be playing football, and yet, they are out arguing over assets and fighting for their own survival, which is very precarious.
In northern Uganda, for example,World Vision has been working with child soldiers, demobilizing them and actually helping them in a trauma center. About 5,000 children have gone through that center in northern Uganda. There has been great progress – seeing these children get normalized and back in their regular communities; finding ways in which the community can accept these children back into their own homes, their own societies; and making sure these children get reintegrated.
World Vision also is working in Colombia. In Colombia, we have watched and been part of a children's movement for peace. There are about a million children that are joining this peace movement and basically saying that, look, we can have a peaceful society.
There is a young lady named Maria Sanchez who at the age of 14 began this peace movement. In fact, at the age of 17, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She did not receive the Peace Prize, but she was nominated, which was an incredible recognition for her as a child, mobilizing almost over a million children in a peace movement in Colombia. These are beautiful manifestations of children taking action and being active in terms of what they see are their issues and then children as participants, and children actually seeing themselves as part of the solution.
We are very pleased to be part of a movement that focuses on these children because they are overlooked. Research suggests that there are anestimated 300,000 children active in armed conflict in the world. I think those estimates are conservative, and we know that these children need our help.
I would like to take a second to talk about the prevention side, what is happening in the realm of HIV and AIDS.
There are about 14 million children presently orphaned in this world because of HIV and AIDS. Fourteen million children who are not going to be socialized in their homes, in their families, children that are going to be fending for their own interests.
You are seeing child-headed households in many of the African countries already, children of 13, 14, 15 years old taking care of their brothers and sisters. I have visited many of these child-headed households.
When you go into one of these child-headed households, you begin to see the real fear in these children. “Here I am, 13, 14 years old, trying to take care of my 5-year-old sister who perhaps is ill or helping my little brother find his way to school, finding the school fees, making sure he has a uniform to be able to go to school.”
This whole area of HIV and AIDS, as it overlaps with preventing the use of child soldiers, is something that we as a community really need to take seriously. It is not just in Africa. It is happening in other parts of the world, as well. These children are in desperate need of attention and care, so that they can be socialized into a society and make a contribution within that society.
If we miss this opportunity, we are going to be finding that a lot more of these children are going to be tempted to move into areas that we have been looking at during this conference, in terms of taking up arms, and being mobilized by certain forces within their countries, whether there are rebel factions or others. These children will be moving ahead in the world that will create more destruction and destabilization. That will, in turn, prevent the children in those countries from having a normal childhood.
I want to implore us today. We need to look at the HIV/AIDS crisis, the 14 million children that are at risk, of not being able to be socialized and becoming active contributing citizens to their countries. I would hope that we get a chance to discuss this issue during this event.
I have the privilege now of introducing Arnold Levine, who is the Deputy Under Secretary for International Affairs.
Mr. Levine has a distinguished record, both as a Federal civil servant and as a transportation and trade consultant during his 22-year career at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Mr. Levine earned a reputation as one of the agency's most experienced, knowledgeable, and successful policy-makers. In 1996, Mr. Levine left the Department to join GKMG Consulting Services, which is part of PA Consulting Group, and helped build that company into a respected transportation practice.
In both his public- and private-sector careers, he has been recognized for his breadth and depth of knowledge of transportation policy, economics, and finance, and especially for his management skills, and as I have had the brief opportunity to know Mr. Levine, his integrity.
Mr. Levine hails from Pittsburgh. He is a native of Pittsburgh, has spent a long time as a resident of the historic city of Fredericksburg. He earned his first degree from Carnegie Mellon, his M.A. in Russian History from the University of Pittsburgh. He has served in the United States Forces, an Army Reservist. I would like to welcome Mr. Levine.
Thank you to World Vision for sponsoring today's working lunch and for the organization’s terrific ongoing work on behalf of children around the world.
I would like now to introduce our keynote speaker, an advocate for children around the world and a leading voice for this administration on international affairs, the United States Alternate Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs,Ambassador Richard S.Williamson.
Ambassador Williamson has a long and excellent career in service in various positions in the U.S. Government. He has served as U.S.Ambassador to the United Nations office in Vienna as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations and as a member of the President's General Advisory Committee on Arms Control.
He also served as a member of President Ronald Reagan's senior White House staff in the position of Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs.
So, without further ado, please join me in giving a warm welcome to the United States Alternate Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs,Ambassador Richard Williamson.
Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be with you this afternoon. I would like to begin by thanking Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and her Department of Labor for hosting this conference, along with World Vision for sponsoring our luncheon today.
Let me also just note, in my position there are a number of nongovernmental organizations that play a vital role. One of them is World Vision on this issue and others. One of Bruce Wilkinson's predecessor's,Andrew Natsios who was here earlier, is a tremendously important leader of the Bush Administration who, as I said, spent time with World Vision and has given them a particularly deep and committed appreciation of the problem not only of child soldiers, but the human rights tragedies and humanitarian suffering in Sudan, Eastern Congo, Burundi, and elsewhere.
Also, I would like to note my appreciation at seeing an old friend, Martha Newton, who is Chief of Staff at the International Bureau at the Department of Labor.
The topic we are here to address requires as much courage, faith, and determination as any issue facing the world community today. That being the case, I am particularly gratified that we are joined by representatives from several governments who are prepared to address this issue in their own countries, El Salvador, the Philippines, Colombia, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.
I am particularly heartened that the Government of Burundi has agreed to be an active participant in this event.
As you know, Burundi was one of the five countries named in the United Nations Secretary-General's report on children in armed conflict. To face up to this fact is to take the first difficult step towards progress. Shame lies in inaction. Shame lies in indifference, but there is no shame whatsoever in facing a crisis openly and welcoming assistance and support from others.
The very fact that we must gather to discuss child soldiers trapped in the toils of war in the early days of the 21st century should shock the conscience of the world. Our children are our future. Allowing their exploitation in armed conflicts does irrevocable harm to them and it diminishes the future for all, robbing a people of the future leaders they need to reconstruct their society when the conflict ends, scarring the next generation that a society needs to reconcile and find justice when the killing stops, and often irreparably harming the child's opportunity for a healthy, productive, normal life.
Therefore, we have a special responsibility to make extra efforts to protect the children caught in this destructive cauldron of armed conflicts.
Comb through President Bush's speeches and public statements, and you will find a recurrent sharply worded theme. It is our duty to make sure that no child is left behind.
The President emphasizes that word "duty," as he should. There is no better platform upon which to build a just world than the obligations of adults to serve their children and serve them well.
So, to stand here today and acknowledge that over 300,000 children are currently being used in armed conflict as soldiers, messengers, guards, runners, bearers, spies, cooks, and sex slaves is almost to speak the unspeakable. The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, but we know it exists in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. Children as young as 10 years old have been abducted from their homes and forced into situations where they witness and sometimes perpetrate violence against their own families and communities. Once these children have escaped the toils of war or have been discarded because they have been so badly wounded physically and mentally that they can no longer function as tools of tyrants, their situation hardly improves. Lacking education, guidance, and a sense of how an orderly world operates, they have few opportunities for hope.
The number of children trafficked or exploited for sexual purposes has grown dramatically. In recent years, political conflict, poverty, transitional criminal rings, and this cynical exploitation of the power of the Internet all play a part in the sordid destruction of human dignity.
In the Mono River region of West Africa, the use of child soldiers perpetuates violence across borders. For many children, the only life known is one of violence and bloodshed. As rebels and mercenaries prowl for new recruits, child soldiers who cannot reintegrate into society have hampered efforts for peace in Sierra Leone, which cannot escape the instability in neighboring Liberia.
Ongoing conflict in western Côte d'Ivoire has wreaked havoc on the younger generation, and pulled them into a fight they did not start. As the New York Times reported just this past Monday,“ever-growing numbers of youth from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast are now schooled in nothing but the art of destruction."
The international community has taken some important steps in responding to these abuses, steps the United States has strongly supported. The first Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on May 25, 2000, and came into force on February 12, 2002. Over 111 countries have signed, and over 52, including the United States, have ratified it. Inter alia, the first optional protocol confirms that the minimum age is 18 years for compulsory recruitment into the armed forces of a state party or other armed groups.
In addition, state parties must take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who are under 18 years old do not take a direct part in hostilities, and that armed groups do not recruit or deploy in hostilities persons under 18.
The second Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child also ratified by the United States addresses the sale of children, child pornography, and child prostitution. It is the first instrument of international law to define these terms legally, and it is essential to our efforts to combat trafficking for forced commercial sexual exploitation.
The protocol requires state parties to protect children up to the age of 18 by treating the actions of exploitation as a criminal act that merits serious punishment.
In the global arena, the optional protocol promotes international law enforcement cooperation. These two protocols are important commitments and emblems of an emerging international consensus. The United States also supports the working group on child protection training for peace personnel, and the principle that child protection should be an explicit feature of all peace-keeping mandates.
The United States has welcomed the report of the Secretary- General on Children in Armed Conflict published in November 2002 that I mentioned earlier.
As mandated by the Security Council Resolution 1379 of 2001, this report includes an annex that lists parties to armed conflict that recruit or use children in violation of relevant international obligations.
As a consequence, the report cites 23 parties, including governments and/or rebel groups in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, and Somalia that recruit and use child soldiers in violation of international obligations applicable to them.
This list has focused world attention on situations that need immediate attention, and it sends a clear political signal to the implicated states of their need to comply with the international obligations.
Such public exposure could be a powerful tool. By exposing violators, it helps hold them to account and hopefully it helps better protect children exposed to armed conflict.
To keep up the pressure, Security Council Resolution 1460 calls for the submission of a follow-on report in 2003 on the status of children in armed conflict in the states listed in the 2002 report. The United States would also like to see the Secretary-General go further than this and submit a list of the worst abusers of children in armed conflict not limited to the countries currently on the Security Council agenda.
Some of the worst violators of children in armed conflict do not appear on the list, countries such as Burma, Uganda, and Colombia, even though they are mentioned in the report.
The United States also would like to see active monitoring of those who have already been named. In this case, more is better, much better.
The obnoxious use of children in armed conflict cannot stand the light of scrutiny. The perpetuators of the abuse of children in armed conflict want to remain in the shadows, hidden from scrutiny, protected from accountability. We need to know, the world needs to know what is happening to our children.
I am pleased to report that significant positive progress has been made in Afghanistan since the inception of the Bonn process just over one year ago. As the Secretary-General report notes, the Afghan national army will not recruit underaged soldiers. Despite the use of child soldiers by factions, the lives of Afghan children have improved markedly.
Since October 2001,America's fund for Afghan children has raised $11.5 million, including more than $1 million in the past few months. Further, the United States Government has donated more than $185 million since September 2001 to assist in general resettlement efforts in Afghanistan, especially efforts affecting refugees and internally displaced children.
Although Burundi has not received the same attention as Afghanistan, the situation there is extremely volatile, and the international community must be vigilant in preventing a catastrophe on the scale witnessed by Burundi's neighbor in the recent past. There have been encouraging developments, but circumstances in Burundi are still such that children continue to be exploited as combatants. The United States’ support for the Burundian transition government is consistent with our calls to prohibit the use of children in armed conflict.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we have witnessed the sad exploitation of children in war over the past few years. Human Rights Watch reports that the government has called on children between 12 and 20 years old to enlist.
Meanwhile, rebel groups have habitually recruited children to aid their causes. Hereto, in progress toward a transitional government,we are working with the Security Council to eliminate the use of child soldiers, but the recent increased violence in the Eastern Congo is the cause of intense concern.
The government of Liberia's flagrant failure to adhere to international law is a major contributing factor to the ongoing instability in West Africa. The armed forces of Charles Taylor, the President of Liberia, and the militia he has backed have a record of recruiting underage children.
As long as Taylor's government continues to support civil strife in West Africa, the threat to the region's children is real, the damage is great. Reform of the Liberian government electoral and judicial systems with respect to human rights continues to be a principal goal of United States policy in Western Africa.
Sadly, the situation is just as grave in Somalia. Reports have indicated that boys as young as 14 and 15 years old have participated in militia attacks, while faction leaders recruit young boys to serve as personal bodyguards. If the international community does not make extra efforts to protect these children, the situation could and probably will get worse.
Some recent estimates suggest that there are at least 175,000 internally displaced children in Somalia. In light of these ongoing tragedies, we recognize the contributions and dogged efforts of the United Nations' Secretary-General, the Security Council, the Secretary-General Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the important work of non-governmental organizations such as World Vision.
Working with governments and armed groups in the field, they have demobilized children and provided them with access to education, social services, and alternative employment to facilitate their reintegration into society, but the magnitude of the problem that confronts these children is such that the United States cannot act alone. Responsible governments must use the United Nations as a tool to eliminate children in armed conflict and must supplement that effort as elsewhere. Therefore, the United States supports programs to assist in the rehabilitation of child soldiers through grants and cooperative agreements, including the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund and the Patrick J. Leahy War of Victims Fund.
The Displaced Children and Orphans Fund focuses on developing and supporting programs that relate to children affected by war. It also supports children orphaned by AIDS, street children, and children with disabilities.
Since 1989, the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund has contributed more than $74 million to programs in 28 countries. Administered by USAID and carried out by nongovernmental organizations, the fund has programs in Angola, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kosovo, Liberia, Mali, Peru, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uganda,Vietnam, and Zambia.
Also in place since 1989, the Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund works in war-effected countries to provide a dedicated source of financial and technical assistance for civilian victims of war. The Leahy War Victims Fund supports programs that provide prosthetic services and programs that follow up such services with patient monitoring. The fund has provided over $60 million in more than 16 countries.
Exploited and scarred by war or the sex trade, hundreds of thousands of children around the world virtually define the word "victim." They have been maimed, and through them, we are all being maimed, the spoil of our future, and subject to the worst kind of cynical brutality.
In Washington, in the United Nations and national capitals around the globe, and in gatherings like this one of public officials and private citizens, the time has come to turn back the flood tide of barbarity.
We the civilized world face many tests, terrorism, the HIV/AIDS crisis, the scourge of drugs, to name only a few, but no test is more threatening to our moral integrity than the enslavement and exploitation of children.
How can we create a better world if we do not first insist on keeping our children safe? The answer to this question is obvious. The term child soldier must be banished from the vocabulary of mankind. We can no longer permit or tolerate the reality to which it refers.
Once again, let me say how much I appreciate your dedicated efforts. Thank you.
Over the course of the past day and a half, we have all been moved by the heart-wrenching stories of child soldiers. We have had the benefit of hearing from experts around the globe who have shared their firsthand knowledge about the best ways to confront this heinous practice, but for me and I am sure for many of you, the most compelling of all the testimonies were those of our young guests, former child soldiers who brought home the magnitude of this tragedy.
At this time, I would like to take just a moment to recognize each of these brave young people and ask them to stand for us one last time.
Fabrice from Burundi. Radjabu from Burundi. Eider from Colombia. Berta from El Salvador. Steven from Sierra Leone. Emilia from Sierra Leone. Mohan from Sri Lanka. Paul from Uganda. And Grace from Uganda.
I would also take a moment to make a special note of recognition from the brave young girl from the Philippines, Jelyn, who could not make it with us today, unfortunately. Thank you all.
These brave young people showed us that the lives of children scarred by war can be turned around and positive change can occur, and we can help renew the lives of thousands of children forced to act against their natures for the benefit of those without morals and without mercy.
From the engaging keynote addresses and panel discussions we have heard over the last day and a half, there are many valuable lessons that we can take away. I am not going to try to summarize all of them, but we have a short list that I would like to cover for you.
That a holistic approach to combating the problem of child soldiers, one that incorporates strategies of demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration offers children the greatest chance to rebuild their lives.
That demobilization and assistance for children should not be conditioned to a peace process or broader demobilization. We should not ask children removed from war to wait and endure more suffering. We should act with urgency on their behalf.
That the collection and dissemination of information is a crucial instrument in preventing the use of child soldiers and in developing effective strategies to address the problem, as evidenced by the Wounded Childhood report recently released by the International Labor Organization.
That girls who were child soldiers have very special needs, as do boys, and these must be taken into consideration in the process of rehabilitation and reintegration.
That there is inherent value in a child-centered approach, a full respect for their dignity.
That children can be important agents of change themselves and renewal in their own lives.
That we should develop community-based systems of child protection and make families and communities central to the process of healing.
That children in armed conflict need to be understood as being the victims and not the perpetrators of crimes.
That for children to become productive citizens, they need the full and unmitigated acceptance and support of their communities and families.
That we must confront issues such as poverty and the growing crisis of HIV/AIDS orphans if we are to avoid conflicts that employ children as weapons of war.
That the political will must exist to enforce international standards and national laws that prohibit the use of child soldiers.
That prevention should be our ultimate goal, so that not even one child is harmed or exploited as a result of being caught in the crossfire.
I would like to express my appreciation to all of our speakers and panelists today and yesterday and to our colleagues at the Department of State and the U.S.Agency for International Development for their support and valuable contributions, and to Bruce Wilkinson and World Vision for sponsoring today's lunch.
My particular thanks go to USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios,Ambassador Williamson, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, and UN Special Representative Olara Otunnu, for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend this conference.
I want to give, again, special thanks to the courageous young people, the former child soldiers, who shared so much of themselves with us. By speaking out on this issue, they have contributed in a very real way to the campaign to end this terrible crime against the world's children.
Their voices, their words, and their songs amplified by the work of this conference will become a powerful force against those who seek to exploit children in this most brutal and immoral manner.
I would also like to thank their parents, guardians, and government and NGO officials who accompanied them here today.
As many of you know, and they have been quite vocal over the course of the past couple of days, there is another group of young people from Washington area's John F. Kennedy High School who participated in a parallel program alongside this conference, and I want to thank you and commend you for your interest and for the most part for your exemplary behavior.
And let's not forget there are parents and teachers and school administrators who have organized this wonderful program.
Importantly, I want to thank my own new staff. If it hasn't been painfully aware to you already, I started in my job on Monday at the Department of Labor, coming out of one week of retirement into this very noble and honorable position, and I want to thank the staff at the Department of Labor for their dedication and professionalism in making this conference a reality. They have done a terrific job, and I think we should recognize them all.
I basically got a free ride this week, having to do nothing more than make a few introductions and read a few remarks. The real work, as anybody who has tried to organize a conference knows, is done by the career staff and others who worked so hard to make it a reality.
I also want to recognize, of course,Tom Moorhead, the former Deputy Under Secretary of International Labor Affairs at the Department of Labor, who was totally committed to the global campaign to end the worst forms of child labor. His leadership will be sorely missed.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you for your interest and attendance at this important conference. I have been involved in many conferences over my career, and they are all plagued to one extent or another by flagging interest and by what we will call participant leakage over the course of the program. I think our record here over the last day and a half has been terrific. I am delighted that you have all stuck with us and you have been so active and vocal in your participation.
The time has come for the community of civilized nations to come together and say, once and for all, no more child soldiers. As Secretary Chao said at the beginning of this conference, we cannot give child soldiers back their childhood. That is a fact, but we can help them rebuild their lives. Working together, we can, we must, and we will make a difference for the world's children.
Thank you very much for participating.
ELAINE L. CHAO
U.S. Secretary of Labor
Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children
International Youth Delegate, El Salvador
International Youth Delegate, Sierra Leone
International Youth Delegate, Sierra Leone
Good morning, everyone. I’m Jane Lowicki with the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. We have a very special moment now together.
We’ve heard the words “child soldiers.” Who are the real people that we’re labeling as child soldiers? What does that label mean? What are the assumptions each one of us has about those young people? Each of us has our own different experience. Some of us come from countries where they’re from, but most of us in this room do not.
We have an opportunity now, this morning, with these wonderful young people, to hear more. We’ve heard some of the facts: there are 300,000 child soldiers, conservatively, in the world; that they are boys and girls; that they come from different countries. But the truth is, there is so much more diversity and complexity to their lives and to that scenario.
What was their life like before they became a child soldier? Why did they become a child soldier? How did it happen? Did they choose, for some reason, to enter a fighting force? Were they forced? Are our assumptions that everyone was forced? What was it like in that force? Was it a constant state of victimization or were there other things happening? Were they making decisions and choices throughout that process? How did they get out? How did they leave? What was life like afterwards, when they tried to go home or when they tried to go somewhere else? Then, immediately or years down the line, what are their lives like now? What do they think about their experiences?
So many of these questions we each have our individual answer to, and our experts this morning are representatives of the young people that you met earlier today. They represent, however, thousands more. So they’re speaking on their own behalf, but they’re also speaking from the experiences of all these young people.
Directly to my right we have Steven from Sierra Leone, and we have Emilia, also from Sierra Leone further to the right. In the corner, we have Berta from El Salvador. We’re also honored to have Secretary Chao among us, who is also going to ask some questions as we go along.
Now, I’ve told them all that, as diverse as child soldiers’ issues are around the world, that the audience is equally diverse, and I want to have a quick show of hands as to how many of you have ever met someone who had been part of a fighting force when they were a child. Can you raise your hands?
Okay. Well, that’s a good number, but it’s a lot of people in the front row, too, so we really have a mixed group. They know that for many of you, if not most, this is the first time you’re hearing something from them directly. So in getting to know them, we hope you feel free, as the conference goes on, to speak to them directly.
We have a very informal format today where we’re really going to have some one-on-one conversation, and I’m going to move even closer as I talk to them. I want you to feel also like you’re the next chair in this circle, as much as you can. And as much as you can, think about the places that they’re talking about, thinking about being there yourselves.
As I mentioned to you earlier, Steven, Emilia and Berta, we’re going to start by talking a little bit about your specific countries and some of the experiences young people have there and how they get involved in fighting forces, and I’ll ask you that individually and hear more about that, but then we’ll have some more open discussion, and the Secretary will also jump in with more questions.
So I’m going to start directly to my right with you, Steven, and ask you to tell me where you’re from.
STEVEN: Okay. Before I start, I would like to greet everybody and I would like to thank the Secretary, Mrs. Chao, for giving us the opportunity to be here. My name is Steven Swankay. I’m from Sierra Leone. I’m here to participate in this conference. I was a former child soldier, but now I’m no longer.
MS. LOWICKI: What town were you from in Sierra Leone?
STEVEN: I’m from the eastern province of Sierra Leone.
MS. LOWICKI: Okay. Great.
Emilia, how about you? Where are you from in Sierra Leone?
EMILIA: I’m from the southern part of Sierra Leone, Liange. We are into mining.
MS. LOWICKI: What type of mining?
MS. LOWICKI: Sierra Leone is rich with natural resources, so she’s from one of the areas where bauxite is. And Kono, you may know, where Steven is from, is where many of the diamond resources come from.What about you, Berta? Where are you from in El Salvador?
[All comments by Berta are through interpreter.]
BERTA: I was born in Santiago.
MS. LOWICKI: And where are you living now?
BERTA: I now live in the capital, San Salvador.
MS. LOWICKI: I think I’ll start with you, coming back. Can you say a little bit about the conflict in El Salvador in the ‘80s and something about young people’s involvement, including your own, in the conflict.
BERTA: I will start with the general ideas of how armed conflict came about in my country.
At the end of the ‘70s decade, we had differences in classes, as well as discrimination. So many people decided to organize and fight to build a better society and a better democracy. And that is how armed conflict began at the end of the ‘70s. Conflict continued until the peace treaties were signed January 16th of 1992.
MS. LOWICKI: And how old were you back then, back in the ‘80s, at the time when the conflict was beginning?
BERTA: I was born in 1976. In the ‘80s, many children were forced to join, and others decided themselves that they were going to start fighting, maybe because they had seen their parents shot and killed by the military, such was the massacre of El Mozote and many other massacres that occurred in my country.
MS. LOWICKI: So what was daily life like at that time? Did you have enough food? Were you able to go to school?
BERTA: I was born and raised in a coffee-growing area in the Department of Usulutan. In that time, all of us, from the moment that we were 5 years old on, would help our parents working with the coffee.
At that time, we worked for low wages, gathering coffee. They would pay us 14 colones for a sack. And the guerillas were surrounding the areas where we used to work, and they would force the owners to raise our salaries, saying that we weren’t getting paid enough. At the same time, they were letting us know that they were fighting a war for us, that they were trying to help the working class, and they wanted us to join them in this fight.
MS. LOWICKI: So what were the specific pressures, in your case, that had you enter the fighting force at that time?
BERTA: Well, at that time, they started asking us to cooperate, basically forcing us to cooperate. They would use the children to make us go to the store to get stuff for them. Also, they would use us to take the food that our parents had been forced to cook for them. In 1990, I decided to join, to help build a true democracy. I wanted life to be different in my country. I wanted life to be different for my children. So in the ‘90s I joined, and I was there for one year, until September of 1991, when I was shot in the back and ended up in a wheelchair.
MS. LOWICKI: When you made that initial choice, were you doing that also with other young people or was it very much an individual choice for you?
BERTA: It was something I decided. Although the guerilla that surrounded us had lots of kids I knew in it, there were also children from different departments that had come. I was part of the special forces, as were many children. They used us to be the special forces. The special forces were in charge of protecting the base. The base is where all the commanders were. Then, when the military would come and try to fight the commanders, we were the ones fighting in order to protect the base.
However, during that time, I was the radar operator, which means I communicated with other squadrons of our group so that we wouldn’t shoot ourselves. I never really shot.
MS. LOWICKI: Berta, thank you. I’m going to come back to you and ask you some more detail about that experience, but first we’re going to talk to Emilia and Steven, and then we’ll talk more in detail about those experiences, and the Secretary also at that time, too, can throw in some more questions as well.
Who wants to go first? Emilia, how about you? Do you want to say something about Sierra Leone and the conflict there?
EMILIA: Let Steven go.
MS. LOWICKI: Okay. Steven, you start first, then.
STEVEN: Before the war in Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone was one of the most peaceful countries, but in 1991, the war started in Liberia. Later, the war entered into Sierra Leone. When the war entered into Sierra Leone, it started from the eastern part, which is where I’m from.
So I was there living with my parents in one of the communities. We had fighting nearby, so we decided to leave the place and go to one of our villages. When we went there, I was with my parents, staying there with them. We heard that the town had been captured by the rebels.
So after that, we left the village, we went to another village. So after some time, the rebels were again close to the village that we were from. After two or three days, we heard that the rebels were now in the village, they had come to collect food because in those times if there was a shortage of food, you found some place to get food. So they went to our village.
MS. LOWICKI: Hang on one second. So the war started in the east. I want to make sure the audience is following along. And because they were coming, you fled your village with your family. And then you heard that they had taken over your village — they were looting for food. What happened next?
STEVEN: We went to the bushland.When they came to the village, they didn’t meet anybody, so they too decided to go into
My mom said that we didn’t have anything. We were staying in the bush, we didn’t have anything. And they said that, if you don’t produce anything, we are going to kill you.
My mother refused to do anything that they ordered. So I was there with them for, let me say for 30 minutes, and they said, we have to move because you don’t have anything. But before they left us, they are going to take me along with them. So they took me to the town that I’m from, which is Koidu town. I was there for, let me say one month, and then they took me to Kundiu, one of our big towns in the Kono district.
MS. LOWICKI: When you were going, what were the rebels who took you like? Were they young people like yourself?
STEVEN: No, they were not young people like myself. They were all 18 years old.
MS. LOWICKI: And when they took you, were they taking many other children at the same time?
STEVEN: On my way, I met three of my friends. They, too, had been captured.
MS. LOWICKI: And how old were all of you at that time?
STEVEN: By then, I was 9 years old. And my friends that they had captured, I cannot tell their age.
MS. LOWICKI: What were you thinking at that time? Obviously you were running and afraid. But what did it feel like when they first got you and they were taking you there?
STEVEN: When I was captured, because we knew that these are people that had come to kill us, I thought that they were going to kill me.
MS. LOWICKI: So then you ended up in Koidu – was it Koidu they took you to ultimately?
STEVEN: Actually, Koidu was my town.They said that we should not stay there because if we stayed there, we would have the chance to escape from them. So they had to take us to a place that we’ve never been to.
MS. LOWICKI: Stop there for now, and I’ll come back and we’ll talk more about the experience after that.
But, Emilia, I know in the last — I don’t know how many days, you’ve been asked the same questions the whole time about your experience and your life, and I know that’s exhausting. So can you tell us something about the girls in your community, other friends of yours, kids, what they experienced in the area you came from when the rebels came.
EMILIA: I was 9 years old when I was captured. The rebels attacked my village where we are staying in 1994 when I was 9 years old. They shot my brother on the spot, and they asked me, with six people, to go and bury him. But we couldn’t bury him, and we were brought back to town.
Because they hadn’t got a hold of everybody in the town, we tried to run up and find a place to hide ourselves. We got into the bush. We were there for about six months, but we couldn’t stay without food. People were dying of hunger. There was no support there. There was nothing for us to live on. By then, my mom was sick. We broke sticks and leaves, and laid on them in a space at night. She couldn’t bear this kind of hardship. She got sick.
So me and some other people, we were asked to go out to find food. We thought we could find bush food to sustain ourselves. On our way, we met these rebels. They asked us where we were about to go, and we told them that we were going to look for food. They said, oh, ourselves, we are looking for food, and you are going to join us. We didn’t want to go, but they forced us. They asked us to decide on one thing, either they kill us or we go together.
I did not answer because I was afraid, because they looked so fearful, the way they dressed and everything they did. So they took us along with them. We were treated like slaves. They beat us like any other animal. In fact, some were killed. So they did anything to us that we didn’t like. They forced us to do their own wishes.
I was lucky to meet with one woman who was the commander’s wife. I cried to her. I said, they have killed my dad, they have killed my brother and my mother is sick. I don’t know whether she has been killed. I don’t know. I said, so please, ma’am, I take you to be my mother. Help me so that these people will not get onto me. Because sometimes you wouldn’t do anything, they would look at you and say, you are going to be killed, and they would kill you. So it was not easy with us.
So I was with that lady, doing domestic work, traveling for quite some long distance.We used to carry loads for them. Sometimes we walked and walked and got tired. Sometimes our feet got swelled up because of walking on the route. We couldn’t sleep in bush, so this hardship was all over, so we got fed up with it.
At one time, the elders of the commanders were saying that we were heading to the capital city of Sierra Leone, which is Freetown. In 1997, they said we are going to attack the government and overthrow the government.
So some of us, we were not happy because we thought it was dangerous because there were also government troops, but they forced us also to go there. We went with them. They allowed us in the town to scatter all about to do propaganda for them, to be spies for them, to find out where the enemy’s location was at. That was the work we were doing in Freetown when we got there.
I used to walk by myself, although we usually walked in groups of people when we came to town. But I happened to find a family friend. I met her and I was happy because I was fed up of living with these kinds of people. So I met with her and cried to her. I said, please, as you are seeing me now, I don’t want to go back to the bush. I showed her my body, some marks on my body. I explained the details of my experience to her. I said, please help me because you are a family friend. You all know what happens to us.
She accommodated me and she kept me quiet until the government troops and the other rebels left the city.
MS. LOWICKI: So there were government troops, the rebels, and yet another force at that time.
EMILIA: Yes. So after they were chased out of the city, I was there with this woman. I kept hiding, hiding, hiding because I was a target, and so was whosoever was in that kind of situation with me. That is, if you were captured by the government troops at that time, you would be killed. And if you were being captured with the rebels that came with you, and you decided not to go with them, you would be killed also.
MS. LOWICKI: You were afraid of being caught by the government and also by the rebels?
EMILIA: Yes. So later, in 1999, January 6th, we somehow found courage. Myself, I started feeling courage.
The rebels came into the city again. By then, I happened to be seen by one of the commanders who captured me before. He said he couldn’t leave me because they had killed his wife, so he couldn’t leave me again in town. I wanted to escape from him, but I couldn’t because they took all of us.You couldn’t set eyes on other people. So they took me away with them. We continued to the jungle. We went from town to town, place to place. They had to train me, and I had to face many, many difficulties that I couldn’t bear, and it was very, very — really too hard for me. I decided better to die than to live in this kind of situation.
The Lord, I know he was caring for me, although we were in this kind of situation. He cares for us – even when we were in the bush – because when I was with my family, we did go to church, we are Christians. So I used to pray. When I was facing difficulties, I called on God to help me.
MS. LOWICKI: Thank you, Emilia. There’s so much in everyone’s story that everyone wants to hear, and it’s wonderful that you’re sharing with us. I’m going to ask you to hold there for just a minute, and I’m going to ask Steven and Berta just to say a little bit more about some specific things in their experience.
Emilia, you mentioned you had so many different tasks to do, hard labor, domestic labor, carrying loads, traveling with the troops, doing spy work, et cetera. What are some of things that both of you did in your experience, and did you get training to do those things?
Let’s ask Steven and then come back to Berta again. When you were taken and you were there, were you trained and then asked to do specific tasks?
STEVEN: Yes. When I was captured, they took me to Kundiu, so I didn’t have a chance to escape from them and get to my village. Then I was small, so I decided to stay with them. So after three months, they trained me as a fighter. But in this training — in the morning — when the commanders woke up, they woke us up to run for two miles. They trained us just the way they had been doing with the government soldiers. We ran in the morning for two miles. After the two miles, when we came back, they gave us water. By then, there was no food.
In fact, even the commanders, there was no food for them. So every child combatant that was staying with them, we didn’t think that we would be having food. So every morning, we ran two miles. In the training, we also learned how to use the weapon. And in case in fighting, if the weapons got stopped, we were taught how to cope with it or how to scatter them.
MS. LOWICKI: Did they tell you why they wanted you to do these things, why they had taken you?
STEVEN: Yeah. In fact, they were giving us some ideologies by saying that in the system of Sierra Leone, it was already unbearable because the government was not providing free education for the people. People were suffering because they could not send their children to school because they didn’t have money. So they wanted to kick that system off. These are the kind of ideologies that were given to us, and we were encouraged to fight with them.
MS. LOWICKI: Let’s hear also a little bit more from Berta.
What about you, Berta? When you went, it sounds like the troops were very organized. What did they ask you to do and how did they prepare you?
SECRETARY CHAO: I think Berta told us originally you protected the base, you were part of the children who protected the base. Isn’t that correct?
BERTA: Yes. When I joined at first, we did protect the base and, as part of the other children, I formed part of the special forces. The training that we got was just the same training as the adults got. We would have to jump from very high places, and we didn’t receive any special treatment. We were being trained to fight the army, just as the adults.
MS. LOWICKI: What were some of the differences between the boys’ and the girls’ experiences in all of your situations? Were girls given specific tasks to do? What do you think some of the differences for girls and boys were?
STEVEN: For the girls, when we were captured, the commanders forced them to be their wives. Some of them were raped. After raping them, maybe they would just leave them to die. Some of them, they captured them, they took them along with them. So the girls, mainly they are forced to be their wives. For us, we are trained to be fighters.
MS. LOWICKI: And what about in your experience, Berta? Were you treated differently than the boys in your group?
BERTA: They treated us equally because their ideology was to have a true democracy, equality for all. So they didn’t have any discrimination against women. They treated all of us equally.
MS. LOWICKI: Madame Secretary, do you have questions?
SECRETARY CHAO: Yes, if I could. Berta had a very difficult circumstance, but Steven and Emilia had much, much different experiences. So I think it would help for a lot of people who are listening in, if conditions are so bad, why could you not leave? Maybe that’s helpful for us to understand, and that would help us to find solutions to this as well.
MS. LOWICKI: What was hard about leaving? Berta, you also said you were wounded, but why did you end up leaving and how did you leave, and also what was hard for you, two, about leaving the force?
SECRETARY CHAO: Did you want to leave?
SECRETARY CHAO: Emilia, you start. Why couldn’t you leave?
EMILIA: They could not allow us to leave by ourselves. In fact, even if we were walking on the road, there would be bodyguards around us. We would be in the middle. So even to go and fetch water, it was not easy for us. They would be shouting at us, treating us like slaves, go and get this water and come back. So it was not easy.
We wanted to escape – because we were fighting so hard. It was not easy for us. I don’t even know how to describe how we used to feel at that time, so it was not easy for us. And we were always thinking of escaping, thinking of the day when we’d be out of this kind of bondage.
STEVEN: Let me help her to explain more. You know, one of the things that actually made us not have the chance to escape is that, like what I was saying, they captured me from the east and they took me to the north. So I didn’t think I would have the chance to escape – or even to know the areas. Also, the rebels, they had a lot of camps, not only one, so if you escaped from this camp and you got to another, if you are captured -
EMILIA: - they will kill you.
STEVEN: And if the commanders knew that you escaped and you were captured in another place, they have to kill you. There is no alternative. So that is why some of us decided to stay with them.
MS. LOWICKI: I’ll take you to the next question — and we’ll get back to Berta also — but in the end, how did you end up leaving? How did you end up leaving the force? How did you get away?
STEVEN: Actually, when I was with them, I was fortunate. When it came time, they said we have to go to Freetown. That was in the year 1999 because it was decided we should go to Freetown. So they took some of us, like the group I was staying with, and they took us to Makani, one of the big towns in the northern province. I was not fortunate enough to go to Freetown. Some of my friends, they were fortunate, so they took them along. Instead, I was staying with my commander’s wife.
So later, when they went to Freetown, unfortunately for them, they were defeated. So they pulled out from Freetown. So some of them decided to stay in one of the villages. They opened another camp there. They called the camp west side. They said that we were the west side boys.
I was staying in Makani with my commander, so from there, we were told that the United Nations were now in Freetown, so everybody and the commanders – those who were having the children – they had to leave there. But I was lucky. My commander decided to release me.
MS. LOWICKI: So Steven actually was able to go, at the time of the peace agreement, when the rebels agreed to put their weapons down.
What about you, Berta?
BERTA: In my case, it was a little different because, since I was wounded or shot, the International Red Cross took me out. They took me to a hospital, and then five months later, the peace treaties were signed.
MS. LOWICKI: And how did you all feel at those moments when you left? We didn’t hear at the last minute when you were finally free, Emilia. How did you feel?
EMILIA: I got free from them when the commander that I was staying with was killed. That was the time I got to escape from them.
MS. LOWICKI: Were you still feeling fear at that moment, like you thought someone was behind you, coming after you? Or were you feeling like, I’m finally really free?
EMILIA: That was during the attack. It’s like everybody fighting for his life, his or her life. And I was standing behind him. He got shot, and I also had the fragments on my feet, so it was not easy for me. I thought I was shot. So I was not thinking of being alive. I was thinking of maybe being killed, maybe I had been. Maybe they caught me already, but I decided to run elsewhere – to maybe get myself out.
MS. LOWICKI: So for all of you, what was the first thing you were hoping for when you had finally gotten away, when you finally thought, I’m free? What was the first thing you wanted to do? Was it to go home? To find friends? What was the immediate thing you needed at that time?
STEVEN: Actually, it was to hear if our parents were alive – waiting to see them to let them know that nothing was wrong with us – that we were back.
MS. LOWICKI: Were you worried about whether they would have questions about your activity during the war? Were you worried about seeing them again, whether you would accept each other or get along, anything like that? Were you concerned about getting together with your family again for the first time?
SECRETARY CHAO: About being accepted?
STEVEN: Yes. Some families do accept their children, but some, when the children do return, they don’t accept them because some of them, when they have been in this situation, been rebels, when they entered to their village, they kill a lot of people. In fact, some children do destroy their parents because they have been changed totally. So when they came back, some parents refused to accept them, even the elders in the community. But I, I was lucky; my parents accepted me. But when I was released, I didn’t get a chance to see my parents quickly. For some time, about nine months, I waited before I got a chance to see them.
MS. LOWICKI: I’m going to ask you about those nine months. Just quickly also for Berta and Emilia, what was the first thing – I know you were able to get free in the middle of a battle, so you needed immediate safety, but after you got out of that, what was the first thing you hoped for?
Emilia: As for me, I already knew that my father was killed. The first time when I escaped and stayed with one woman – with a family friend when we came back to Freetown – I was told that my mother was killed, my mother was dead. So I was thinking, I am the only daughter in my family and my small brother also has been carried away by the rebels. So I had nowhere to stay, nobody to care for me, nobody to stay with, and I had nowhere to go.
So I just decided to meet people. In fact, at that time, if you said you were a rebel, nobody would help you. Or if you explained your situation directly, nobody would help you. In fact, it would lead you to danger because somebody would go and make a report and then you would be killed.
So I just kept myself quiet and tried to talk to friends. I tried to be nice to people, although it was not easy with me because I couldn’t see my family again. But I was meeting with people and explaining to them some details of my life so they would help me. So that is why I was not hoping of going to family because I already knew I had nobody behind me.
MS. LOWICKI: Thank you. Berta, in terms of your situation, you were disabled in the war itself, and then peace came. What was the situation with your family and your health, and maybe some of the other young people who were in the fighting force, when they finally got out? What were your first hopes?
BERTA: To receive support from my family and from my neighbors and for there to be a therapy program to help me walk again. But it was difficult. September of 1992 was when I started receiving aid from a program from the Pan-American Health Organization so that I could walk again. And in 1993, I had a prosthesis here so that I could walk, and I was walking in sort of like a swing.
MS. LOWICKI: Can I ask all of you, what was the main thing that helped you after you left the fighting forces? Clearly, the health support you got, Berta, was really important, but beyond health support, many of the young people I work with, with the Women’s Commission, talk about security and talk about education. What are some of the main things you think young people need?
EMILIA: I believe young people need education and support. That is the first important thing. And they need caring. They need protection. They need caring, protection and most youths need job facilities and medical facilities. All the needs that are necessary are the needs of youths and children. The most important are protection and caring.
MS. LOWICKI: In both cases we have a peace agreement, but in Sierra Leone there was a specific demobilization program. In Salvador, there was not.There was something different. We have very little time now before we have to stop our conversation, but what were some of the things about that demobilization program that you think needed to be improved for young people?
STEVEN: Actually, when we were released by the rebels, when we came back to Freetown, we arranged one program, which is DDR -
MS. LOWICKI: That’s disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.
STEVEN: Yes. The program started. When the program was started, they started rehabilitating us, after the demobilization. Some of us – like some of our elders who are above 18 years – they sent them to vocational institutes, skills training centers. Some of them started doing that. And some of us, they sent us to school.
But, actually, I don’t know why every program does not include financial supports. They are trying, actually. We were hoping the government would help us. They didn’t satisfy most of us because some of our friends – it didn’t provide schools or a skills center for some of our friends, so they could do something in the future. So some of them are unhappy.
When they brought me to one of the centers, I was there for six months. By then, the disarmament was taking place in my own hometown, and they told me that I would have to go to my parents. So I was thinking that it’s better for me to stay there at the center instead of coming to my hometown because my friend he came to the town and they didn’t do anything for him.
I stayed at the center attending school. By then, I was in class five. I moved on to class six. I received my national primary school examination. By then, it was two months for me to seek my examination. And they said they would take me to my parents – without finding my parents. I was furious about that.
Actually, they did try, but they didn’t please most of us. Some of my colleagues were sent away by these centers, but the staff didn’t check on them. Some of them just scattered. Some of them are in Freetown and some of them have returned to their villages. They are grumbling.
So these are the kind of things they should improve on. They should improve on that DDR program. If any other rebel program started, most of the former child soldiers would try to join. In Sierra Leone, people are very poor. Because of the situation, people are just giving birth to children. People in that place do not have a job to do, but they have about 15 children. He or she alone will not be able to take care of them. So these are the kind of things that happened.
MS. LOWICKI: Many young people say they wanted education and help coming back together, but the programs were very under-funded and many girls especially, because at first they didn’t have a gun to turn in, could not participate.
I know we have to wrap up. I know Berta wanted to say something else especially about education in El Salvador as part of reintegration.
BERTA: I’d like to comment definitely about my country, but first about all countries in general. I think that there should be programs for children who have been victims of this war. There should be psychological programs and educational programs that cover all sections and all areas of life so that they can be accepted back again into society, and also so that they can be reincorporated into the work force so that these youngsters can form a productive part of their country.
MS. LOWICKI: All of you have shown tremendous courage by making it so far to this stage from your own homes, being surrounded by conflict and many other problems, and having survived the actual conflict itself. There is so much strength in that, and everyone in this room, I know, is extremely proud of you and extremely honored to be here with you. We thank you so much.
But I want to ask just very quickly, in one sentence, for each of you to close. What do you think young people, especially those who have been in your situation, want to contribute right now to change and prevent other children from having to be part of fighting forces?
STEVEN: Okay. I’m really happy for being here. It’s a good start by bringing us here, at least to put our opinions and ideas together, to put an end to the involvement of children in war. So the only thing you can do is, as you have started, you have to work with the United Nations first, and the ministries that really work for children in each country or any country. After that, you have to campaign the youth or the politicians that do involve children in war.
Number one is the United Nations. You have to work with them because they are the people who helped us to be alive today, because they are the ones who brought peace to Sierra Leone and told the leaders to leave us. You have to work with them. We have to at least give financial support to African countries, because if people have a chance to go to school and get educated, it is less likely they will be influenced to become a rebel, to fight other people, to destroy a country.
You have to do a lot. You have to work with the government, as I’ve said. You have to make sure that you provide free education for children in any country of Africa or all over the world. I think that is one of the things you have to do because it is one of the things that makes me happy now. My parents were really poor after the war. The war really destroyed them. So they didn’t have a chance to help me to attend school. So for now, I get help from somebody, and that person is great. She is the regional director for Search for Common Ground in Sierra Leone. She is the one assisting me.
So these are the kinds of things. You have to make sure that you support the government of any country. At least be able to support the children, provide free education. If you do that, I don’t think anybody will rebel against these practices. That is my own contribution. I know my friends have more.
EMILIA: My own contribution is that you really have to pay attention to these African countries to see their needs because it’s lack of education that causes all these problems in the African countries, and the lack of jobs and job facilities. There are no improvements in our countries that will help us to be educated or to be better.
And really, girls – I want to emphasize this – girls have been involved in this war. Some are sleeping in the marketplaces in African countries. They have nowhere to go. Like me. I was forced to be a wife of that commander, and I have a son now. My son is going to be three years old on June 16th, next month. I have my brother. I have great responsibility. I have nobody to help me.
So I find it difficult – and I want to be educated. I am forcing my way so that I will get educated, at least to take care of my family in the future. But it’s not easy for me. I’m really finding it too hard because I have no support. I have no one to help me. So it’s not easy. I just meet people individually and talk to them. And it’s not easy with me, so I really need support for educational issues.
Like my child needs to go to school, my brother also needs to go to school or receive skills training, in order to help him in the future. And all the people are in the same situation as myself and my family. So you really have to pay attention to African countries.
SECRETARY CHAO: Let me ask Berta to give us some final words, and then I will say some final words as well. I want to thank everyone so much for the opportunity to hear their stories. As Jane mentioned, these are very brave individuals who have seen such hardship, such horrors, and yet they have the courage to share with us, and we have others in front of us here, too, who have the courage to share with us the reality of what they’ve gone through. And hopefully, again, we as an international community of responsible and civilized nations will do something about it.
So, Berta, why don’t you wrap up and then I will say a few words.
BERTA: I’d like to tell other presidents of their respective countries to enforce the children’s rights laws that already exist, to actually punish the people who force children to become soldiers, and to aid the children who are victims of this by educating them or giving them money for a career. In my case, I wanted to go back to school in 2000, and I knew that there were scholarships available, especially at the National University, which I attend. But when I requested the scholarship, it was denied. I know that there are funds out there to help us, and I was denied. I don’t want this to happen to any other children. I would like them to be able to get their education. Thank you very much for having us here.
SECRETARY CHAO: Berta, there are a lot of scholarship opportunities available, so we hope that through your appearance today, others will see you and new doors will open as well.
Thank you, Jane. And I’d like to thank our panelists, Steven, Emilia, and Berta, for their really moving and thought-provoking words. I think listening to what you’ve endured and how far you’ve come really gives us hope that we can build and rebuild shattered lives. So thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.
I want to recognize another important part of our program that has been taking place at the same time as our discussions here. And that’s the Parallel Youth Program that began this past Monday. In addition to the remarkable young people that we’ve heard from today, former child soldiers from countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific have been sharing their experiences with children from John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. I would like to show you a short film about the wonderful exchange that has taken place between these two groups of young people. Let’s take a look.
[“Youth Parallel Program” film shown]
As you can see from this film, these young people have been extremely busy, and their participation has been so important. It brought, for me, the anguish of child soldiers out into the open for the world to see. And you can see them on stage and in the front of the room, so please join me in recognizing and thanking all of them.
I would like to take a moment now to thank some other people. I would like to thank Marcia Eugenio and everyone from the Bureau for International Labor Affairs who worked so hard on this conference. And also, I would like to recognize another major force behind the conference who we lost unexpectedly less than two weeks ago – Tom Moorhead, the former Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs.
Tom was a strong advocate of this Administration’s international labor agenda and personally championed the campaign to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. In his travels,Tom was relentless in negotiating bilateral agreements aimed at removing children from abusive work and providing them with real educational opportunities. I would like to share with you a short photo montage of Tom’s work at the Labor Department, put together with great love by his colleagues.
Fabrice (age 18) — Following the death of his father, Fabrice’s family lost their main source of income, and Fabrice enrolled in the government military in order to support his family. At the time, he was in primary school and misrepresented his age in order to be accepted into military service. As a soldier, he participated in field combat. After accidentally wounding a fellow soldier, Fabrice was sent to military jail for six months and then dismissed from the military. Since that time, he has returned to his family and continues to serve as their primary provider. Fabrice hopes to learn French and English and to operate a computer. He is a member of the JAMAA program (meaning “Friends” in Swahili), which brings together youth from different ethnic and geographical backgrounds to create more peaceful relations between warring groups.
Radjabu (age 23) — After a rebel attack on his village, Radjabu feared that he would not be protected by the government army and sought refuge in a rebel camp. He was forced to enroll as a soldier in 1996, when he was just 16 years old. He also participated in the war as a combatant. Radjabu managed to escape from the rebel group and return to his family in 1999. He looks forward to working in his community to prevent other young people from becoming child soldiers and wants to be a truck driver. Like Fabrice, Radjabu is a member of JAMAA.
Eider (age 17) — Eider was forced to serve as a member of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Colombian guerrilla group, when he was 15 years old.As a member of the ELN, he worked as a cook and combatant. Eider eventually escaped and turned himself in to the police. He was transferred to the Specialized Attention Center for ex-combatants in Cali where he is currently studying carpentry and attending primary school. He hopes to one day finish high school and earn enough money to buy a home.
Berta (age 26) — Berta grew up in the coffee growing area in the Department of Usulutan where she came into contact with rebel forces during the 1980s. Berta and her family provided food for the guerrillas, and she eventually joined the movement in 1990. Berta served in the Special Forces assigned to protect the base and the commanders of the unit. In the field, her primary role was that of a radio operator. In 1991, she received a spinal injury, and was rescued by the International Red Cross. Berta was forced to use a wheelchair for two years. In 1993, Berta learned to walk again with crutches. She is currently studying law at the national university.
Steven (age 13) — Steven was captured by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and recruited as a fighter in the Small Boys Unit when he was 9 years old. He managed to escape from the RUF, but later joined the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and served as a soldier. Steven was demobilized following the signing of the 1999 Lomé peace agreement and found support at an Interim Care Center for separated children on the outskirts of Freetown. He then joined the Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio’s Golden Kids Network as a journalist. The Golden Kids Network is a children’s news program that is reported and produced by kids. Steven receives educational and support services through the organization. He was featured in the UN Works “What’s Going On?” film series.
Emilia (age 17) — Emilia was also captured by a rebel group when she was 9 years old, and spent the next five years performing various tasks for her military commanders, including scavenging for food, laying ambushes, and learning to use firearms. She was forced to become the wife of one of her commanders but escaped following his death in battle.After escaping, she found that she had become pregnant with his child. At 14 years old, Emilia became the primary caregiver for both her newborn son and her younger brother. She received assistance from a missionary group, and has since returned to school. She is currently at the senior secondary level and also works as a journalist for the Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio’s Golden Kids Network.
Mohan (age 24) — Mohan was coerced into joining the armed group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (L.T.T.E.) when he was 15 years old and was trained in combat and arms.When Mohan finally escaped, he turned himself into the army. He was released but then rearrested following a rebel attack. He spent 7 months in jails until the government army intervened and sent Mohan to a rehabilitation center.
Grace (age 21) — Grace was abducted by the Lord’s Resstance Army in 1996 and forced to work as a soldier until 2001. After leaving the armed group, Grace passed through the World Vision Gulu center, where she received immediate care and services. With the encouragement of the World Vision staff, Grace returned to school and is currently in year two of Secondary school. Grace enjoys singing and wants her life to be an example for other girl soldiers, showing them that that success is possible after abduction. Grace has participated in several conferences including a national advocacy conference.
Paul (age 18) — Paul was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army at the age of 12 and spent five years in captivity as a soldier. He escaped from their camp in the Sudan and was assisted to return to Uganda by UNICEF. Paul is now a student at Universal Standard College in Gulu. He participated in a documentary film featuring abduction stories and testimonies of children, which was sent to Sudan to persuade abducted children to return home. He has also attended several peace conferences.
JO BECKER Children’s Rights Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
Good morning. I want to welcome you all to this morning’s panel on prevention issues, and I want to thank the Department of Labor for including this very important issue in this conference.
When children are recruited into armies and armed groups, the cost to the child and to society are enormous. These include injury, death, psychological trauma, lack of educational opportunities, and, of course, loss of childhood itself.
But oftentimes the discussion around the issue of child soldiers immediately shifts to what happens after the fact; in other words, the challenges of rehabilitation and what is needed to help integrate former child soldiers into society.
What is often overlooked in our discussions is the element of prevention. What are the strategies that can keep children from being recruited in the first place? How can we get at the root causes of child soldiering and prevent this abuse from happening at all, rather than spend so much of our energy trying to pick up the pieces after the fact? What actions can we take at the community level, at the national level, at the international level to protect children from recruitment?
Very few families want their children to become child soldiers. In the work that I have done, I have seen families and communities go to extreme lengths to try and keep their children from becoming recruited.
In February, I was in northern Uganda with Human Rights Watch conducting an investigation in the huge upsurge of abductions that have happened there in the last year, and if you go to northern Uganda, you will see an astounding phenomenon.
In the evenings in the major towns, hundreds and even thousands of children will come flowing into the centers to sleep at night. They go to hospitals, to churches. They find shop verandas and they sleep there and go back home in the morning. Their parents send them to protect them from abduction.
We have seen similarly extreme measures in other countries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, when schools were being targeted for recruitment by rebel groups, some families in the communities went to the length of shutting schools down to protect their children.
In some countries in the Middle East, parts of Iraq and Lebanon, families have fled their homes, moving to other regions and even other countries to protect their children from recruitment.
These are very poor solutions because they replace one problem with another. Children should not have to forego an education or leave their homes to avoid military recruitment, so these examples underline the importance of our challenge today, which is to identify positive prevention strategies that will help protect children without putting their other rights at risk.
We have an excellent panel this morning to explore some of these strategies with us. We have representatives from government, from the United Nations, from nongovernmental organizations.
It is my privilege to introduce our panel this morning. Our first speaker will be Mike Wessells. Mike is Professor of Psychology at Randolph Macon College. He is also a psychosocial adviser for the Christian Children’s Fund. He has helped to develop programs to assist children, families, and communities affected by armed conflict in countries, such as Angola, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. UN agencies, donors, NGOs, and governments alike all rely on Mike’s extensive expertise and his thoughtful analysis.
Our second speaker will be Guenet Guebre-Christos. She is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regional representative to the United States and the Caribbean. She has spent over 20 years with UNHCR, dealing primarily with African refugees. She has spent most of her career in the field, serving in Rwanda, Benin, Nigeria, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Refugee children are at particular risk of recruitment, and we are pleased to have you and UNHCR’s expertise here this morning.
Our third speaker is Nonoy Fajardo, who is currently a project officer with UNICEF in the Philippines. He manages the national project for rescue, recovery, and reintegration of children in need of special protection. Previously, he spent eight years with the national project on children in situations of armed conflict, and has also worked on a peace program in the Office of the Filipino President.
Finally, our last speaker will be Minister Shirley Gbujama. She is the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs for the Government of Sierra Leone. As we know from yesterday’s session, Sierra Leone is one of the countries that has unfortunately had extensive experience with the use of child soldiers. Minister Gbujama’s ministry is responsible for demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration in conjunction with NGOs and UNICEF, and previously, she was also Sierra Leone’s representative to the United Nations.
MIKE WESSELLS Psychosocial Advisor, Christian Children’s Fund
It is a great honor and pleasure to be here with you this morning. I think Jo is exactly right; we have to put a focus on prevention. It is not enough to wait for the damage to be done and try to pick the pieces up afterwards.The question is how do we do this? What we need is a holistic system analysis and approach. In the past, we have not always engaged in this kind of systemic approach. Gender has been silent too often. Girls have remained invisible. This is as true in prevention programs as in reintegration programs, and we have to correct this problem.
To think systemically, we need to take a look at what happens to the protection systems at multiple levels.The protection systems are systematically destroyed by war, and systems such as family, school, and community that ought to protect children and ensure their well-being, in fact, become transformed into sources of risk and damage for children.
We see at the family level, for example, that poverty, family violence, and separation from family are enormous risk factors for child soldiering. If we look at the school level, too often schools themselves become abduction points for young children. The lack of quality education oftentimes leads young people to seek skills and develop enough competencies, and the construction of hope and meaning through violence and soldiering.
At the community level, oftentimes there is crime.We are dealing with divided communities saturated with poverty, oppression, with very deep hatreds, with desires for revenge and peer pressures that draw people into the use of violence as an instrument for meeting basic needs and for finding meaning in struggles for liberations.
These factors have to change. That is what we are up against, and that means that there is no silver bullet. It means that we have to think about protective steps at multiple levels. Efforts only at the national policy level will not work, and efforts only at the family level will not work. Interacting, comprehensive systems of protection are needed.
If we take a look at the prevention steps needed at the family level, first of all, documentation, tracing, and reunification are crucial, but also keeping family together in times of flight is crucial.
We need to think about positive parenting, about developing values, norms, and skills of nonviolence within the family.
At the school level, we have to find a way to keep schools open, to provide quality education, and to help teachers understand how the war affected children that they are working with have been affected by armed conflict. We need to think, not just about formal education, but non formal education, literacy programs, and life skills development for older youth.
Then, at the community level, we need to be thinking about birth registration, about the reduction of discrimination, supporting youth civic groups, and constructing positive roles and life skills for young people, so that they are not driven into soldiering.
If we come up to the next highest level, the national level, there have to be much stronger standards against child recruitment, and stiff penalties for offenders. We have to find ways to stop the flow of lightweight weapons which make young people soldiers and effective combatants.
If we come up to the international level, we need to think about stronger standards and improve protections.We need to think about universal endorsement of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratification and implementation of the optional protocol on child soldiers, effective prosecution of recruiters of children by a body such as the International Criminal Court, and shaming of violators of child recruitment as has been done by Olara Otunnu’s office.
Within this very broad framework, I want to now turn to two cross-cutting issues. The first is identity. Children who form military identities have a harder time finding their way back to civilian life. They often report that afterwards they experienced a loss of meaning, and they are not sure how to fit in and to reintegrate back into civilian society.
Those who glamorize violence and soldiering to begin with oftentimes see soldiering as a venue for becoming a powerful person and developing a positive social role. I would like to suggest that we know quite well how to strengthen non-military identities. It is through the development of appropriate values through provision of positive role models, through reducing media images that glorify violence, through developing systems that support nonviolent conflict resolution and pro-social values, and above all, giving young people a positive role and the life skills that they need to meet their basic needs.
A second cross-cutting issue has to do with the construction of community-ased systems of child protection. Oftentimes, importantly, we work very much at the national and international level to develop policies and standards.That is terribly important, but at the end of the day, we have to ask what is the reality of children’s lives, and are those rights actually becoming a reality on the ground.
Too often, I would argue, there is a community protection gap, so we need to think a little bit about how to fill that community protection gap. In that context, I would like to describe very briefly a program that is being implemented by Child Fund Afghanistan, a branch of Christian Children’s Fund, in conjunction with UNICEF and USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphan’s Fund, in northern Afghanistan where the warlord system remains quite strong and young people remain under the control of their commanders.
In this situation, we tried to mobilize villages, so that they could develop their own systems of child protection, which then become a platform for preventing recruitment and for guiding Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs.
The process is child led. It begins by having groups of girls or boys draw a risk map of their village. They can do this on the ground or on a sheet of paper. They draw a picture of the village, and then they are asked to identify the places that are dangerous and where accidents happen.
Typically they identify things like open wells that children fall down, or they might identify a bridge that is out, leaving young people to try to construct a very flimsy bridge, which then results in a disaster, or, of course, in northern Afghanistan, land mines. After they do that they then prioritize their two key issues, and they present these to the community in the form of a role play.
As they do that, the village members get quite excited about how to address those risk factors. They then form a child wellbeing committee that consists of both adults and children, and they engage in the process of collecting planning and action.
They actually go out and cover up wells. They create totally new systems for protection. This child protection well-being committee then serves as a base for monitoring human rights, providing a platform for preventing recruitment, and linking with government and international agencies.
I would like to suggest that even though it is not a panacea, that this kind of community mobilization and activation around child protection and making children’s rights a reality is absolutely crucial.
Thank you very much.
GUENET GUEBRE-CHRISTOS Regional Representative, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Thank you for inviting me here to speak with you today.The vulnerability of refugee children to military recruitment is an issue of major concern to UNHCR. I welcome this opportunity to discuss with you UNHCR’s perspective on the factors causing recruitment of child soldiers, the necessary measures to prevent recruitment, and the challenges UNHCR and its international partners face in implementing such measures. Let me begin with an overview of UNHCR’s role globally.
UNHCR was created to protect and assist refugees and find lasting solutions to their plight. The people we help have fled across an international border to escape persecution or war, to save their own lives and their families, and to preserve their freedom.
Our responsibilities towards these families, men,women, children and elderly people are three-fold. First and foremost, we seek to protect them, to ensure that they can cross that border to safety, that they are well-treated in their country of asylum, and that they are never forced back against their will to a country where they would be harmed or even killed. Second, we assist them through basic survival needs like food, blankets, shelter, medical care and in the best cases, education for the children and training and help for adults to be self-sufficient. Third, we try to find solutions to their situations. Often, this is through voluntary return to their own homes when circumstances permit. This is the option most desired by the refugees themselves, who often vote with their feet and return to their lands sometimes even before it is completely safe at home. If return in safety and dignity is not feasible, we try to find a way for refugees to restart their lives in a new country, either where they have first sought safety or sometimes in yet another country that would offer them permanent resettlement.
Currently, there are just under 20 million people worldwide of concern to UNHCR. Out of this total, UNHCR and its partners assist an estimated 7.7 million children and adolescents under the age of 18.
Let me turn now to the issue of preventing military recruitment of refugee children. Refugee children, especially those who remain in camps for long periods of time, are at particular risk of recruitment. For them, joining an armed group might appear attractive and a way to validate oneself, given inadequacies in social services and lack of hope in the future. The armed group might appear a disagreeable but known entity as opposed to the unknown, feared alternative of displacement and homelessness. Breakdown of the family unit is another primary factor in child recruitment. Separated children are at particular risk for recruitment. Many of the youngest to join are children who have lost both parents and have no one else to take care of them. Others who join are not only without their parents but have become the head of their household, a tremendous responsibility.
As discussed yesterday in the plenary session, the first step to preventing recruitment of children is to persuade those governments, which have not already done so, to introduce laws setting the minimum age for compulsory conscription and/or voluntary recruitment at 18. Governments must also regulate recruitment by other armed groups that may be non-State actors. UNHCR advocates against the use of child soldiers in all circumstances and encourages States that have not yet done so to accede to the Optional Protocol to the CRC on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts. Of course, as discussed in the plenary session yesterday, laws alone will not prevent under-age recruitment. The laws must be strongly and effectively enforced.
In addition, the international community has a collective responsibility to address the underlying root causes that increase the susceptibility of refugee children to abuse and exploitation. UNHCR, in collaboration with Save the Children Alliance, has initiated the Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) training and capacity building program for UNHCR staff, government and NGO partners. The ARC training program is being implemented in the field with the objective of establishing regional resource teams which address critical children’s issues, measures that I am presenting this morning are discussed in more detail in the ARC training materials, which are available on UNHCR’s website, www.unhcr.ch.
UNHCR has created specific tools to protect children from recruitment in four critical areas: basic needs, family, education and increased economic opportunities. It is important to meet children’s basic needs such as food, housing and security, so they are not pressured to meet these needs by seeking out armed forces or armed groups.
In some circumstances children are deliberately sought. It is therefore valuable to do risk mapping to develop appropriate prevention programs. Risk mapping would include identifying which children are most likely to be recruited in a particular situation, where fighting might be concentrated, the availability of small arms, the age and type of children being militarized and the main agents of militarization. For example, armed elements often cross borders and enter camps in order to recruit refugee children. UNHCR has found that it is virtually impossible to prevent recruitment, forced or voluntary, of refugee children if there are armed elements in camps and that it is essential to keep the camps civilian in nature. UNHCR asks host governments to help prevent the infiltration of armed elements into camps and to provide physical protection to refugees in the camps. UNHCR tries to locate camps as far from conflicts as possible and provide special accommodations for high-risk individuals, such as crisis rooms and “zones of peace.” We also promote global birth registration and seek to provide birth registration or age documentation for children to institutionalize the recognition of their status as a minor and their ineligibility for recruitment.
With regard to family unity, it is crucial to keep children and adolescents with families or other caregivers. If, however, they are separated, it is important that family tracing activities are underway as quickly as possible.
In addition to these efforts, it is vital to provide alternatives to joining an armed group, such as, education, vocational training, employment, sports and recreation. Access to education is one of the most important issues facing refugee children today. Education provides a positive alternative to drugs, to crime, to military recruitment and to other forms of exploitation and abuse. UNHCR currently attempts to provide primary education for all refugee children but sometimes is unable to meet this goal due to recourse constraints. Ensuring that refugee children have access to post-primary education and skills training for adolescents is also high on UNHCR’s priority list. An important development in this area was the establishment two years ago of an independent Refugee Education Trust, which is supported by UNHCR. The aim of the program is to address the funding gap for education at the post-primary level. The Refugee Education Trust provides secondary education for an estimated 1.5 million teenagers. Classes initially use country of origin curriculum, are instructed in the mother-tongue, and utilize refugee instructors when possible. Teachers incorporate conflictresolution and peace-building in the curriculum, and vocational training kits have also been used, especially so that former child soldiers can secure a livelihood and better reintegrate when demobilized.
UNHCR has entered into several innovative partnerships recently with respect to educating refugee children to promote peace and to providing refugee children access to positive developmental activities. First, UNHCR has partnered with UNICEF’s Peace Education strategy for victims of violence in the DRC, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia and Uganda with plans to extend the program.This strategy specifically promotes and complements traditional problem-solving approaches by teaching peace promotion behavior, skills, values, and attitudes.
The second partnership is with Olympic Aid and the four-time Olympic gold medalist Johan Koss. Under this partnership, sports projects are now being implemented in some thirty camps and refugee-populated areas in countries on all five continents. These projects provide opportunities for children to make friends, to overcome the idleness that is often part of life in a refugee camp, and to build tolerance and understanding. The third involves one of the Secretary-General’s Messengers of Peace, Jane Goodall, who is working with UNHCR to extend her Institute’s “Roots and Shoots” program to refugee settings. The aim of this program is to provide young refugees with the chance to participate in taking care of the community and the environment, and to link them up with more privileged children in similar “Roots and Shoots” groups.
Despite all of these efforts, there is still much that needs to be done by the international community to prevent recruitment of refugee children. In particular, there is an acute need for greater resources for primary and post-primary education and developmental activities for refugee children. In recent years, the international community has tended to place less importance on education than the refugees themselves. With humanitarian needs growing in many parts of the world, the funding available for refugee education programs has decreased. In general, public interest and funding have declined to the point that UNHCR is now a “chronically underfunded agency.” We must raise our funding through voluntary contributions starting from zero each year. Our High Commissioner, Ruud Lubbers has said, In keeping with the importance of the issue of refugee youth to UNHCR, this year’s World Refugee Day program focuses on youth. There will be a series of activities in various venues on June 20th and 21st. You can find the schedule as it is finalized on wwww.usaforunhcr.org.
“We cannot allow these trends to continue.” To increase the funding for such programs, there must be an increased political will and commitment to ending forced recruitment. In conclusion, a final objective seems to be quite clear for the new millennium: we must be committed to mobilizing more resources, if we are to actually help children and set the foundation for global peace.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you once again for including UNHCR in your agenda. I also want to take this opportunity to invite all of you to participate in this year’s World Refugee Day activities.
NONOY FAJARDO Project Officer, UNICEF/Philippines
Good morning. In the Philippines, children volunteer to be members of armed groups, and unlike in other countries, it is rare that children are forcibly conscripted or coerced to join armed groups. However, lest I be accused of condoning the practice, let me stress that this voluntary participation needs to be qualified in the light of the children’s objective experiences and subjective understanding of their realities.The children’s decision to join armed groups is mainly shaped by their social milieu and family values.
An encompassing reality in the Philippines is the widespread poverty and abysmal disparity in wealth and income. Conservative government estimates place the number of Filipinos living below the poverty line at more than one-third of the total population. This literally translates to some 26 million Filipinos who are barely surviving.The government has not made a significant dent to this long-standing malaise and is in some ways seen as a tool for perpetuating this inequity.
We all know that economic injustice breeds social unrest. The situation has spawned armed opposition groups, sowing revolution or secession as a cure to oppression. The backbone of these armed groups’ membership is the poor, oppressed, and marginalized sector.
The family is the basic social unit in the Philippines.Among the poor and marginalized in the countryside, economic activities are family affairs where every member contributes to the production and where even children have roles to play. In a way, membership in some armed groups can be seen more as a collective action of the family rather than an individual decision of its members.
Simply put, children follow the ideologies of their parents. Sometimes their parents themselves would even volunteer their children to be conscripted on the belief that this would make the children’s lives more meaningful and useful.
The decision of children to join armed groups is also shaped by how their consciousness was nurtured by the community and their social environment. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), for instance, asserts that alleged systematic oppression and persecution of the Muslim people necessitate the declaration of the jihad or holy war against the government, and it is supposedly a sacred duty of all Muslims to defend their faith and community. Entire communities adhere to the validity of this cause and accept the involvement of children in the jihad as a collective obligation or a duty binding the community as a whole.
To many families living in abject poverty, participation of children in armed groups is a viable alternative given the lack of services and opportunities provided by the State. To some parents, the choice has been limited to either their children ending as degenerates or fighting for a cause worth dying for.
Beneath the armies of the MILF and the NPA are social support networks that have provided services from literacy to health to agricultural production, mostly in areas hardly reached by government social services. In situations like these, it is not surprising that children would look up to and aspire to be members of these armed opposition groups. They have been the role models by default and by deed.
Others also perceive the involvement of children in armed groups as an economic opportunity that would augment family income and an indication of upward mobility of their social status. Members of the government paramilitary,Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) are entitled to monthly stipends, which are precious augmentation to a poor family.
In similar vein, some young recruits of the Abu Sayyaf were also been motivated to join armed groups on the promise of substantial cash rewards and arms. Money and gun instantly conjure to a child the prestige and status of adulthood.
Government, civil society groups, international organizations, and even armed opposition groups in the Philippines have employed various strategies to curb the practice of recruitment of children. Among the major thrusts has been to address the roots of the conflict and expand social services. Expanding the scope of social services and poverty alleviation programs in the poorest and remote villages has been the response of government in addressing the root causes of the conflict inasmuch as structural change is a formidable task. The comprehensive and integrated delivery of social services aims to provide livelihood support and ensure the delivery of basic services in conflict areas.
The peace talks with MILF and the NPA, which straddled several administrations, have gained significant headway in terms of defining the framework for the negotiations. It is unfortunate, however, that the parties to the conflict have decided to suspend the talks indefinitely for various reasons. This is tragic since continued negotiations can make possible the cessation of hostilities in the long run or agreements that would protect children from the ravages of war in the short run.
For instance, based on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) agreed to provide for the special attention to women and children, to ensure their physical and moral integrity, and to disallow children to take part in hostilities. The agreement, which was supposed to serve as one of the frameworks for the talks with the NDF was signed by the former president, but was not acknowledged by the present government.
The campaign to ratify international instruments for the protection of children has had a string of successful runs in the Philippines. The Government has promptly ratified these treaties owing to strong lobby of civil society groups as well as the progressive and pro-children inclination of some segments and personalities in Government.These international instruments remain potent weapons in the protection of children.
Armed opposition groups vying for international legitimacy and who present themselves as better alternatives to the existing system could not afford to disregard these international agreements at the pain of losing support both locally and abroad.
These treaties also serve as basis for local legislations, policies, and programs to further protect children. From these treaties emerged Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection for Children Act, which, among others, declared children as zones of peace and outlaw the recruitment of children under 18 by armed groups for combat and noncombat duties.
Parallel to the formal peace talks with the government, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups have engaged non-State entities in constructive and confidence-building activities. Despite the political risks involved, civil society groups in the Philippines have acted as intermediaries, monitors, and facilitators in the peace process. These opened lines of communication and created opportunities for advocacy with non-State armed groups. In 1997, for instance, UNICEF held a series of dialogues and consultations with MNLF and the MILF. These, among others, resulted in the support of these armed groups for the national mass immunization campaign held that year.
UNICEF has initiated, together with government and nongovernment partners, a child-friendly movement that seeks to put children first in all the social and political agendas that support the other strategies previously stated. This child-friendly movement involves interaction and cooperation among the different sectors of this holistic, integrated, and sustainable strategy to promote child rights. It places the Filipino child at the center of the development agenda and at all social levels from the family to the country level.
A relevant strategy being employed in the child-friendly movement is the organization of the Barangay or village council for the protection of children. This is a grass-roots level organization composed of village leaders and service providers that looks after the welfare of children in the community.
MINISTER SHIRLEY GBUJAMA Minister of Social Welfare, Government of Sierra Leone
Thank you very much. Let me say that Children in the Crossfire has been a reality in my country, Sierra Leone. We have seen here, we have heard from our children, and we know what it has been like. We definitely did not want this to happen. Like one of the children said, Sierra Leone used to be a very peaceful country.
We thank God that peace has returned, and now we can even talk about prevention. I would say there is no simple answer for one country, but together we can achieve the impossible. War is what we must all together avoid, because it is war that leads to these things. If there is no war, then, children cannot get caught in crossfire.
I believe that the avoidance of war is where we stand. We must have a world free of war. That was the reason, in fact, for the United Nations, at the end of World War II. It has succeeded to prevent a third world war, but for internal wars we need to look someplace else, at our individual countries, with UN help.
But how does it come about that we enter into wars in the first place? Bad governance sometimes, so maybe our second thought should be good governance. We must do everything we can as governments to put forward the kind of government that our people can use and benefit from instead of those that will exploit them, especially the poor.
We must have our priorities right for development as governments, and in order to do that, our friends and those who are helping us in developing countries should bring us technology for production of food, for equipment, for vehicles, education, adequate help, assistance, and media facilities so that people all over the country can see what war has caused for their children and by their children and it can be avoided.
We must have that kind of technology sent out. We see the kind of assistance we need for that, rather than having weapons. We would prefer that weapons of war do not become priorities for assisting countries like ours.
Poverty, of course, contributes in no small measure to a lack of education. As governments, we must work with civil society so that it is not just the government that is there in a selfish way looking at itself and carrying on, but trying to hear from the people through their civil society representatives to hear what are they saying, what they want, what is happening, how we can reach out. I believe that these efforts will help to bring the kind of understanding that will be needed so that wars can be avoided.
We must, of course, raise awareness about the results of war. The results of war on our children must be shown all around, in order to promote proper politics and policies. For example, we have now in our government accepted and signed the protocol that prevents children who are below 18 from recruitment as soldiers in any kind of war situation.
Those children who are below 18, if they are used in war, it should be punishable by the laws of the country.We believe that perpetrators must not go unpunished. Let people see that because someone started a war, he has not gone free for that. We very much welcome the special courts in Sierra Leone.
We must intensify counseling services for parents on the rights of children. While some of the children in war participate voluntarily, there are others who were forced by their parents to be with so they would not be separated. These parents encouraged the children, especially the boy children, to go with them into war situations.
Laws against children used as soldiers can be an effective measure for prevention of wars. They can prevent children from being caught in crossfire, amputated, punished, or killed by a land mine.
Indeed, for us, and African children, like any other children in the world, we must do everything we can to introduce and be firm on the provision of the United Nations CRC so that we can all participate and make our children useful.
I was happy when somebody spoke something about the family level, that is where it starts. Let us all be together in encouraging the children to have values at the family level and such values, not like ours, because I tell you some adults have values that their children cannot afford to copy or be in trouble. So, we must have values that are really good for them according to international standards and practice.
JO BECKER Children’s Rights Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
All of our speakers have shown us that there are no simple strategies for preventing the recruitment of children, and that, in fact, we need multiple strategies at multiple levels — the family, the school, the community, the nation, and the world. Let me highlight a couple of the points that have been made by our speakers. One that was just addressed by Minister Gbujama is the importance of addressing the issue of impunity. It seems that recruitment of children is going to continue as long as there are no consequences for those that are responsible, and this underlines the need for very vigorous enforcement of national and international standards and clear penalties for violators, whether they are individual recruiters or governments.
Second, the need for alternatives, and this issue came through to me very clearly last year when I was doing research on the use of child soldiers in Burma. I met with a general with an opposition army. He was very frank, very open. He said,“Yes, I have children in my forces, but I would rather these children would be in school. The problem is there are no schools here for these kids.”
He was appealing to the international community for help, and clearly, if he had other options, he would be willing and even eager to exclude children from his forces.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Question: What sort of incentives are NGOs and the world community able to give to paramilitary organizations, in terms of releasing child soldiers and getting them to engage in a dialogue?
Question: My question is for Mike Wessells. One of the first lines of your presentation was about the invisibility of girl soldiers. Could you elaborate a little bit more about that, why are they invisible and what can be done about that?
Question: Special Representative Olara Otunnu mentioned cross-border child soldiering. I am originally from Liberia. I am so happy that we have a lot of Sierra Leoneans here because a considerable amount of effort has been put into the DDR process in Sierra Leone, which has been very effective.
My concern and question is why Liberia was taken to a certain level and then abandoned, and now we see we have Liberian children who were abandoned, now possibly fighting and possibly destabilizing the entire sub-region. What can be done about that, so that we prevent the conflict from spreading into more West African countries?
Question: My question is about the wars in Sierra Leone. I was wondering how much of that was due to the diamond trade and I would like to hear more about that.
Mr.Wessells: Regarding the question about invisibility of girls, I think the programs that are set up oftentimes reflect the same patterns of discrimination and patriarchy that are prevalent throughout the international community. There is nothing terribly unique about the discrimination of women, sadly and objectionably, and that needs to be corrected.
In addition, there are huge taboos associated with having women mistreated in this way, so it produces a lot of shame. In addition, a lot of commanders want to just simply hide this, so that the exploitation can continue. I mean let’s face it, it’s convenient.
Then, too often DDR processes privilege combatants, so, for example, in Sierra Leone, to actually participate in the National Commission on DDR and receive full benefits, you actually had to turn in an AK-47. If you had a shotgun, it did not work, and if you were a girl who had been a spy or a porter of sex slave, it did not work.
I also wanted to comment briefly on NGO incentives to paramilitaries. Reporting and shaming is absolutely crucial. This is a negative incentive. This is the sort of stick approach that I think is really vital. In addition, I think it is vital to address the root causes.
Many rebel groups understand very well that the basic human needs of their people are not being met, so if you can work to end discrimination, poverty, and inequities, I think that is hugely helpful.
Ms. Guebre-Christos: On the cross border of child soldiers, the case of Liberia, I think the triangle of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone has been affected because there has not been any coeur de voir or comprehensive approach to the resolution of the problem. Also, Liberia has suffered from sanctions, which have not affected President Taylor, but have affected the population and the region.
Mr. Fajardo: I will just comment on the engagement with non-State entities. This strategy, of course, cannot be applied holistically to all armed groups. I would not advise engaging the Abu Sayyaf, for instance, but I would advise engaging dialogue with more politically sophisticated armed groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the National Democratic Front.
As I have said, it is quite politically risky, but engaging them without any strings attached would be both productive in terms of advocacy and influencing their own policies within the group.
Minister Gbujama: I believe that the responsibility for children taken across the borders actually lies with the government of the country from where these children come. We should guard our borders, and we can do this in most cases, especially in peacetime, if we are not ourselves, as governments, involved in the crossborder.
For example, recently when there was a skirmish on our borders, we tried very hard to ensure that children or adults did not cross over to participate in any war that was going on in the other country.
We believe that we really have taken some responsibility for children, but what about street children? This is more complex. If we can take care of the street children and find a place for them, and if they can be in a position to have basic necessities, then they will not be there for recruitment.
Now, as for diamonds, yes, you are right. Diamonds became the reason for some of the wars. There were people ready to exchange diamonds for arms.
So, is it the diamonds or is the arms? We have to look at the two situations. I have diamonds, you have arms, so do I need your arms or do you need my diamonds? Diamonds do not cause war, but arms do, so we must not encourage the bringing-in of arms for diamonds. Let’s use diamonds for something else.
Question: I wanted to ask a question that I think has not been yet addressed by the panel, and it is a bit unfair, but I think it’s the crux of some of this problem of prevention.
What do the panelists believe with regards to the issue that is in so many conflicts? Child soldiers are seen as the best soldiers, so that from a military perspective, when you advocate, for example, with a government, quite often the government’s response is you are taking away our competitive advantage and we are in the middle of a war, and when you do that, you can upset and undermine that government with regards to the actual military strategy and tactics of winning that particular civil conflict.
It is a difficult question, but the people who are using children in warfare know that they are good, and it isn’t just that there are so many and they are so desperate, they are very good fighters, at least that is the view in so many conflicts around the world.
Question: You were speaking earlier about working with the guerilla groups and the governments trying to compromise and come to solutions without war. How is that possible and how is it being done? In what ways can we speak with those groups?
Question: Mr.Wessells talked about the small percentage of these children making personal decisions. So when can a child make a personal decision to join rebel activity? I know that the majority of the children who joined rebel activities in the Great Lakes region were abducted. Girls have been used as sex slaves. This is a new phenomenon.
I also want to know about the politics that actually provoke the wars that we are talking about. Can we build what we have now in the Horn of Africa – the conflict early warning signs – before real conflict begins? Also, can we build regional neutral armies that can assist in areas where we have war, instead of having to go to the United Nations and wait for their soldiers for six months to a year, while children are being abducted and people are suffering?
And finally, birth registration is a very crucial program. If we can have birth registration, it goes with a lot of other programs, not just registering a child and giving him a card. In fact, that registration is the child’s identity from the beginning, and that’s how you know their age.
People can’t deal with these problems just as communities, nor can they deal with them as countries or regions alone.
Question: This question is for Mr.Wessells. In your presentation you alluded to some of the child participation activities that you have been doing. I was wondering if you could talk a little about the importance of including children as participants, the mechanisms for making that happen, and some of the successes you have had incorporating children into your activities.
Question: We find that justifications for recruitment are used by rebel soldiers, whether it is because of a lack of education or lack of food. But on the other hand, the international community tends to accept these justifications and compromise with rebel groups. As a result of that, in Sri Lanka, what we have seen is everyone saying do not talk about child soldiers because it is sensitive to the peace process. And meanwhile, more children are abducted. When we’ve developed certain educational programs to prevent the use of child soldiers, the governments and the international community tend to obstruct this.
Mr.Wessells: The way we build child participation is to move youth and children from a position of invisibility to a position of centrality. We map the local youth groups, we find who local children respect and who would be interested in working on these issues, and we engage them as actors – not as beneficiaries – but as agents of their own protection and development. But we utilize local structures.
On the issue of governments getting advantage out of child soldiers, I think it’s a poignant question. It is also the case though that it is non-state actors primarily who are recruiting very heavily and who commit some of the worst abuses.
And regarding the advantages of children as soldiers perceived by governments and factions, it is also that case that large numbers of people perceive themselves as having an obligation to be good parents and protect their children. So I think it is sometimes the case that you can awaken that impulse within the constituencies that are abusing children and apply internal pressures.
Ms. Guebre-Christos: UNHCR and Save the Children alone have established what we call Action for the Right of the Child, and it is a very comprehensive program that provides training both for the service providers and the children. I am talking now within the context of refugees. If you need more detail on that, you can visit our web site www.unhcr.ch.
Minister Gbujama: As far as children being the best soldiers, I must say that what we want to do is to avoid the war altogether in which the children can be recruited, and this is where I think our main thrust should be — ensuring in our situation that there are no wars. We should do everything we can to maintain peace at all costs.
I also agree that there are early warning signs. This is why I am saying that it is necessary to work with civil society. I believe if governments are working very closely with civil society, you can, in a number of situations, detect some early warning signs from the way they are responding to the government. I believe that these are things that we need to examine. I thank you.
MANUEL FONTAINE Senior Advisor on Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our second panel of the day. We will now be talking about demobilization and what it means. Demobilization is a crucial phase of the return of children from their position in armed groups to their integration into communities and families. That is a relatively short phase, but it is a phase that is extremely crucial in making sure that the reintegration happens the way it should.
The first presentation will address the policy framework and the general advocacy being done for demobilization. Then we will have the occasion to reflect on two specific examples in order to have a feel from the field of how these principles are being applied in practice.
There are some key principles that we will hear about during this session on demobilization. First of all, there is the importance and unconditionality of demobilization. Child demobilization is an unconditional process. That means that we do not have to wait for the peace process or a peace settlement to start demobilization. Some of the examples we will hear today are proving that this is the case.
The simple fact that children are enrolled in armed groups is a violation of their rights, and that needs to be corrected without delay, and in absolute priority.
Secondly, demobilization needs to be an inclusive process. Clearly we are not in the same situation as when we demobilize adults. In those cases we tend to link demobilization to a disarmament process where adults are being asked to come with a weapon, hand over their weapon, and then can participate in some demobilization process.
We have a much broader definition of child soldiers and the need to be fully inclusive and particularly to include girls.
A third principle is the importance of the phase of demobilization. It needs to be done with special care and attention, as it is the phase that basically links the child with the civilian life again, that links the child from the military life or the armed conflict life into the civilian life.
It is important to realize that it is the phase that is often very worrying and very difficult for a child. It is not as easy as we think. It is not just simply coming to freedom and having access back to civilian life. Sometimes there are a lot of expectations, there is a lot of anguish, and it is quite important to realize that it needs to be handled with a lot of care and attention for children.
The first presentation will come with Kathy Vandergrift, who is working for World Vision. Kathy will be talking to us about the advocacy for demobilization and the policy framework that she is trying to implement and advocate for. Second, we will see how some of the demobilization principles are being applied in practice. For this, I will ask Lourdes Balanon, who is the Under Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, from the Government of the Philippines, to tell us about the experience in the Philippines compared to the experience of today. Finally, we have another example of the work being done on the ground, and specifically with the participation of young people, which is a crucial element to again demobilization and reintegration. For this, I will call Adrien Tuyuga, who is the representative of JAMAA (meaning “Friends” in Swahili), an organization working in Burundi on these issues.
KATHY VANDERGRIFT Senior Analyst,World Vision Lourdes Balanon, Undersecretary, Ministry of Social Welfare and Development, Government of the Philippines
It is indeed a privilege to be here and pursue these important topics again. Demobilization is the first step in the transition from military to community life; it is a step that is very important for child soldiers.
Interviews with former child soldiers reveal that it is a step full of promise and full of fear: the promise of seeing family again, and the fear of rejection. It involves identification, but that can mean a loss of anonymity and group identity. Health issues come to the surface; they could be ignored on the run. It means breaking ties with the commander, who may have been abusive, but it also means facing the unknown. It may mean giving up a gun that provides security, power, and importance. How all of this is handled can make the difference between successful re-entry into society or return to another armed group, street gang, or despair.
Too many times demobilization just happens without planning and without attention to the particular needs of young people. I want to focus on the core elements of a policy framework that does take into account the importance of young people. I want to highlight the importance of advocating for this at all levels and stages in a conflict.
First of all, it may seem obvious that children have different needs than adults in demobilization, but that is often not recognized. In some cases, it may be recognized, but then ignored, because military commanders do not want to admit they have children in the troops. The children may either be sent away quietly or retained as personal servants.
The solution begins long before the day of demobilization. It begins with naming and analyzing the situation of child soldiers in all reports on specific conflicts. Regular reporting prevents denial or dismissal of the problem.
Detailed analysis of the situation of children in specific conflicts is essential. Every study on children and armed conflict has called for improved monitoring, reporting, and follow-up. Child advocates are persistent in advocating for attention to children in every conflict report going to the Security Council. In four resolutions the Security Council has made strong commitments to stop the use of child soldiers and to consider this problem in specific situations.
Yet, last year, the Watch List on Children in Armed Conflict, a nongovernmental coalition, found that out of 80 resolutions on specific situations, only 10 considered children, in three countries, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Angola. The situations where children should be considered, but were not, include the Middle East, Liberia, Somalia, and others. International diplomacy for children is a new art. It is one that we need to encourage.
Secondly, the role of child soldiers needs to be explicitly considered in the peace process. The good news is that sometimes it now is, like Sri Lanka. As the use of child soldiers becomes stigmatized, forces want to hide the fact they are using children. There is a tension between calling for an end to impunity, and getting forces to admit the presence of child soldiers so they can receive appropriate assistance. These issues need to be worked out in the peace process.
Third, early demobilization of child soldiers should be encouraged, before the conflict ends, as was already stated. We have made some progress. Colombia is a good example. Right now, for Sudan, where there is a peace process in early stages, child advocates are pushing for consideration of early demobilization of child soldiers used by both sides in that conflict. It could be a confidence-building measure.
It is important to emphasize the point that transition programs are a good investment for sustainable peace. Many times children are just dismissed. Research has been done in Liberia, in northern Uganda, and elsewhere to compare the results when children receive assistance and when they do not; that research shows that transition programs can play an important role in successful reintegration.
At the same time, we know that some youth, particularly girls, will simply not come forward in a public way. Alternative ways are needed to include them in accessing assistance.
Fifth, while eligibility criteria should be inclusive, separate strategies for girls and boys will involve distinctive programming for each. Girls are often ignored in demobilization processes, with disastrous results.Without assistance, girls may be forced to stay with abusers or turn to child prostitution in order to survive.
Sometimes girls are reluctant to leave commanders when they have children because the children then have no father, and they may face social rejection. These are complex issues. Girls need assistance early in the demobilization process to understand their choices and to begin the process of living in community again.
At the same time, adolescent boys face different challenges in switching from a culture where self-esteem is gained by military prowess to a community where they may be marginalized or forced to submit to authorities they do not respect.
If the first steps are not done well, former combatants may choose to return to violent methods of survival. Turning in a gun should not be a criteria for inclusion in formal demobilization or receipt of benefits. Some children are not allowed to keep their gun, often girls, even though they have been involved in the fighting.We know that discrimination between children, based on the criteria of gun possession, can, in fact, create new conflicts among young people.
Sixth, the involvement of young people themselves in the disarmament process can be an effective way to encourage child soldiers to give up weapons. Disarmament remains a challenge, but there are good practice models emerging.
Seventh, formal documentation, recognition of the transition through formal documents, including identity papers, is also important. Former child soldiers have voiced to us resentment when their contribution to a war effort is ignored; without papers, they are often not eligible for some of the benefits that adult soldiers may receive.
Eighth, the roles and responsibilities of the different players must be clear. Military-civilian cooperation is required to help young people make the break from military structures and loyalty to commanders to civilian society.
Good organization of demobilization is more than just a management issue. It increases the confidence of young people to make that transition, which is often a major deterrent to rerecruitment. Re-recruitment at this stage is an important issue.
Ninth, it helps to involve other youth, youth-oriented organizations, and community groups as early as possible. Sadly, there have been situations where community groups were interested in helping, but they were turned away because demobilization was seen as a military activity.
Transition centers can play a role, but stays there should be short. Making other social links early is important to break the link with the military command.
Tenth, careful consideration of the components of any emobilization benefit package can prevent unintended negative impacts. In some cases, young people have received less than adults, even when they were equals in the conflict and were forced into more dangerous tasks. If young people in armed groups are treated better than young people in the community, it creates new problems.We need to really work through how that benefit package is going to happen. It is important that youth go home with some provisions, because they may be returning to families that simply cannot afford to care for more children. Creative approaches are being developed, such as using the education component to benefit the whole community, to rebuild linkages between the young people rather than building divisions between those who were child soldiers and those who were not. Benefit packages need careful attention to contribute to building peace.
Finally, funding and time frame. Adequate funding and time frames are essential. In most cases, it has been difficult to attract enough resources to do a good job. National governments, donor countries, and international agencies would do well to consider the true costs of the impacts of rushed or poorly managed demobilization. It is a good investment to start on post-conflict reconstruction by paying particular attention to the demobilization of child soldiers.
LOURDES BALANON Undersecretary, Ministry of Social Welfare and Development, Government of the Philippines
Today, we take another important step in the continuing quest for lasting peace as we share our experience in the demobilization of child soldiers worldwide. The Philippines is privileged to be part of this international conference.
The early morning papers of March 9, 1999 were splashed with the photo of a 17 year old girl who was wounded, lost and pleading beside a dead comrade. She is Jelyn, an NPA guerilla who was taken under the custody of the Philippine Army after an encounter in one of the remote areas in Southern Philippines on February 16,1999. A soldier shot this scene seconds after his unit ambushed 19 NPA rebels, where nine members were killed; nine escaped and one was wounded. Jelyn survived with a bullet wound in the pelvic bone.
This photo raised the awareness of the public on the issue of child soldiers. In view of the lack of information on children in the armed groups, child soldiers only come to the attention of the public when they voluntarily surrender to the authorities, or are rescued/captured (involuntarily) during military operations. Throughout the more than three decades of internal conflicts between the government armed forces (AFP) and the revolutionary army of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the National People’s Army and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and its breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the use of children in combat was never discussed nor the issue included in peace negotiations.
In the Philippine experience, demobilization starts when the child is rescued or surrenders since there are no peace agreements arrived at to date. The processes involved are based on the Special Protection of Children’s Act, the Comprehensive Program for Children in Armed Conflict and the Memorandum of Agreement among agencies handling child soldiers.
1. Reporting of a child soldier –Government forces are to report within 24 hours of a child who is rescued or surrendered to their custody to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). A social worker immediately visits the child to establish his/her identity and family background, know more about his/her current situation and prepare him/her for the transfer to the protective custody of the DSWD.
While under military custody, the child must be a) informed of his/her rights; b) provided immediate physical and medical treatment when wounded including psychological/psychiatric treatment when necessary; c) must be given adequate food, appropriate clothing and other basic needs; d) protect the child from further exploitation and trauma and that no tactical interrogation or any similar form of investigation or use in military operations.
2.Turn-over and transfer of the child – The transfer of the child from the military or police to the DSWD should be made within 24 hours from the time of rescue or surrender. However, when the situation does not warrant such turn-over, the child should be turned over within 72 hours.
3. Family tracing and assessment – Based on the information gathered, the social worker visits the child’s family to inform them of his/her situation and give them opportunity to visit the child. Tracing the family and relatives is sometimes difficult particularly when there have been no contacts between them or they reside in remote areas.
An assessment is conducted on the family’s socio-economic situation, their strengths and capabilities to care and support the child’s rehabilitation and reintegration. Of special concern is the family’s role in the child’s joining the armed group.
The child may be immediately released to the parents/relatives who are ready to accept the child. Continuing assistance is provided such as livelihood, family counseling and other psychosocial interventions, educational assistance for the child and continuing medical care, if indicated.
4. Child’s assessment and rehabilitation – The social worker’s assessment is focused on the child’s physical, social and psychological condition; his/her strengths and capabilities; his/her perception and feelings about the situation and plans e.g. return to family; and other support system as well as other external resources to effect change in his/her situation. This assessment becomes the basis for the treatment/rehabilitation plan with the involvement of the child, the family and other professionals, as necessary. The child’s feelings of anger, loss and guilt of what happened to her and others as well as his/her fears, anxieties and uncertainty of what lies ahead must be handled with understanding and an assurance that help is available.
The first option is the child’s return to his/her family or relatives capable to care for him/her. Alternative parental arrangements such as foster care or group home maybe resorted to. However, because of security reasons, there are few families willing to foster a child soldier. The last option is residential care which oftentimes becomes the immediate response. The child is provided with his/her basic needs, counseling, therapy, and other interventions, considering the special needs of girls, and he/she is prepared for family reunification or other alternate plans. They are provided opportunities to be children through play, sports and other recreational and social activities. The military/police are not allowed within the center’s premises.
In some instances, the DSWD files a petition in court for the child’s continuing stay in the center. However, the child’s stay in the center should be as short as possible.The Court ordered the rehabilitation of Jelyn for six months at the center. Simultaneous services were provided to Jelyn and her family. However, Jelyn later went back to the city to continue her studies under foster care. She has become an advocate and a model for other child soldiers.
Demobilization is a complex and fragile process. This transition period between demobilization and returning home is crucial as it is a bridge between the child’s past and future. Political will and commitment are needed to pursue the elusive peace. Peace agreements must include special provisions for the demobilization of child soldiers.
There should be concerted efforts to prevent children from joining armed groups and for those already in the armed groups to demobilize them. Children must be informed and encouraged to seek voluntary means such as negotiations or the use of intermediaries to be able to return to civilian life in a safe and peaceful manner. Accurate information and messages of benefits of demobilization in a language/dialect they understand are important to reach them. Rescue of children mostly during military operations endanger their lives.
Children need support to help them break their ties with the military and prepare them to resume life with their family and community. A holistic approach is needed taking into consideration the child’s experiences before, during and after recruitment, his/her age, educational background and support of family. The child’s participation and his/her family and if possible, the community, should facilitate rehabilitation and reintegration process.
Confidentiality is important to protect the privacy of the child. Guidelines for media practitioners in reporting and covering cases of children should be strictly implemented. Children and their parents must consent to any publication and interviews to be undertaken.
Child protection staff and security/military/police personnel must be trained in handling child soldiers during demobilization within the human rights framework.
Many children have shared their life stories as child soldiers. We adults must listen to their voices and calls for peace. Children are instruments for peace. The Filipino children, both Christians and Muslims, have organized themselves to promote peace. We can do no less. May this conference strengthen our resolve to promote peace within us, among us and in our own countries and the world.
Let me end with Mother Theresa’s Prayer for Peace:
O Lord God, Lead me from death to life;
from lies to truth.
Lead me from hatred to love; from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts; our world, our universe.
ADRIEN TUYUGA Program Officer, JAMAA/Burundi
[Mr.Tuyuga’s comments were made through an interpreter.]
My organization is working with both the Hutus and the Tutsis in Burundi to foster the demobilization process with the local and international organizations. One of the most sensitive issues right now, related to the Arusha Agreements, is demobilization, which is occurring both at the government level and with the rebels. UNICEF mandates that protection of children begins with those who are younger than 18 years of age.
Within the framework of these Agreements, signed by UNICEF and the government, is to formally demobilize children who are less than 18 years of age and never to mobilize them again. The government is also a signatory to a number of international conventions, but the law has not been amended as of yet.
An international process of demobilization is being implemented with the government on one side and the NGOs on the other, within the framework of an international and national structure. Within this structure, we have a committee that includes the Ministries of Defense and Human Rights, UNICEF, NGOs, and the child soldiers.
Attempts have been made between UNICEF and the rebels to set up a framework of validation, but it is very difficult to go forth so long as there is no official ceasefire. That generates a lot of confusion, so the rebels continue to recruit, often by force, a lot of youngsters below the age of 18 because they feel they do not have to abide by any convention.
The process seeks to integrate the hundreds and thousands of youth who have deserted or self-demobilized because we do not want anybody to fall by the wayside.
My organization, JAMAA, along with NGOs throughout the world, such as Search for Common Ground and others, are trying to target these soldiers and reintegrate them socially via exchanges. We are also working on the economic front and trying to reinsert them by paying a lot of these young people as facilitators within the peace process. But these young people are very numerous and very often they get frustrated, so they go back and become abandoned and start carrying guns again.
We have a number of suggestions:
- provide more support for local and international organizations for their work, which is increasing, and set up national coalitions to provide support for local organizations helping out with children soldiers;
- demobilize these so-called peacekeepers who are, in fact, doing more harm than good in the locations where they are supposed to be demobilizing;
- encourage the rebels to reintegrate these child soldiers under the supervision and the monitoring of neutral observers, and provide help for national legislation inspired by international laws;
create economic programs and encourage follow-up, and encourage civic education and professional training for their grass-roots level; encourage reconciliation and work with groups of both genders.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Question: It’s a common and very effective fighting technique to catch criminals in the commission of lesser crimes. Is it practical to fight these rebels who use drugs through their connections with the illicit drug trade?
Question: What is the ideal duration for a demobilization program, and what is the amount of time that, in the best case scenario and if funding situation was good, that would go into these programs?
Question: I am asking this question in behalf of the delegate from Sri Lanka. For reasons of identity, he can not come in front of the camera.
I am glad to hear many speakers putting forward ideas for demobilization; however, based on my personal experience as a child soldier in Sri Lanka, I ask this question. Is the demobilization done through a special program and a system of guarantee for the child soldier in mind?
If you do not have such guarantee, it is better to leave the child soldier with the rebels rather than demobilizing. I am saying this because in my experience, after I surrendered and I was brought in by the guard for rehabilitation, but before I was sent to rehabilitation, I was tortured even after I surrendered on my own will. I was rehabilitated with some training, but after that, there was no guarantee. I was just abandoned. I still cannot find employment and still I have been looked at with the suspicion that I am a spy for the rebels.
Question: The military has only just begun to address the need for special training tailored to encounters with child soldiers by our troops, and I was wondering what factors the organizations here, both on this panel and other panels, would wish the U.S. military to consider when developing this training in doctrine, and what would you like to see included, so that our troops are prepared to act both effectively and humanely when confronted by child soldiers. That includes when they are threatened by children in combat, and in what capacity might organizations work with the military to equip them to handle these confrontations.
Ms.Vandergrift: In terms of fighting the child soldiers issue through the drug trafficking regimes, I think we probably need to give that a bit more attention. We would want to be concerned about criminalization of children through that process.
In terms of an ideal duration, I would say that there is no ideal. This is what has to be developed through careful and early planning. The situation would determine, and even each individual youth. What is ideal in one case may not be ideal in the other. So, there is where particular circumstances need to be taken into account.
I would also affirm the testimony we heard from Sri Lanka about the importance of paying careful attention to the child protection factor. In terms of training, I am sure my colleagues have more to say, but there is some work going on where NGOs are involved in training military, particularly in respect for the rights of children, and I think that is something we can pay more attention to.
Ms. Balanon: Regarding the issue about guarantee after demobilization, in our experience, the government takes this responsibility in coordination or with the help of non-governmental organizations, as well as the church groups which are also very active on this issue.
Of course, there is a feeling sometimes that after demobilization you have been abandoned if there are no follow-up services. I think this is because demobilization is only the start for rehabilitation and reintegration. The reintegration process should continue what was started in the demobilization process.
Regarding the training, it is very important that everybody involved in the process should be able to have the specific skills and knowledge in handling and working with children, and in particular, within the human rights framework. Training should be provided to those who have direct access to the child, because the feelings of guilt would be there, the feelings of uncertainty would be there. That is why psychological intervention is necessary.That would need to be understood by everyone who is involved in the process.
Question: I am from the government of El Salvador. I am going to talk a little bit about what happened during the civil war. It was a problem to quantify the number of children that suffered during the conflict. The main concern was identifying children for a program that was developed by the government called Fund for Protection for Those that were Injured or Disabled as a Consequence of the Conflict.
As part of identifying the children for these programs, a census took place in order to reinsert them into school. The census was conducted where 152 children were identified for reinsertion into public education, and 97 for reinsertion into technical assistance programs and vocational training.
The results were not immediate, and these programs had support from the European Union and the German Government, as well as the Salvadoran Government.
Finally, I would like to highlight that it was difficult to quantify the number of children that actually were served by the various programs, which made it very hard to figure out exactly why they were injured. Mostly, there was concern because they were part of the guerilla group. There was a lot of fear on the part of the children and the families to come forward and say exactly how or why they were injured.
Ms. Balanon: The problem of identifying children reinforces the importance of early involvement of the community. That is the best way to identify children. In terms of the fear of coming forward, that is a matter of child-friendly methods for children to talk about their experience. In Guatemala, extensive work was done to create the environment where children could come forward and feel free to say what their experience was. There is some very powerful documentation from the Guatemala experience.
Question: Since some of these demobilized children are too young to legally work in society, even at non-hazardous work in a limited way, and others are under the age of 18, all of them need education in some form and some of them need work, at least part-time work. What use has been made of residential schools for the long-term care and education of kids who are demobilized, but cannot be reintegrated into their families? Has there been any involvement of either private for-profit organizations, or nonprofit organizations in developing economic possibilities for the youngsters who are old enough to do some work and help support themselves in that way?
Question: There are lots of great ideas and examples of what you are supposed to do in demobilization situations, but the problem that we see is there is no consistent international standard, or U.S. standard for that matter, on protection and demobilization, and I would be interested in how we could move towards that standard.
Question: In the case of Burundi,we know that our government is doing much to demobilize child soldiers, both from its own ranks and from the rebel side. But we all know that the Burundi case, like in many African poor countries, they do not have the means to do so. I would like to know whether governments of rich countries and international organizations are giving enough funds to those poor governments to demobilize us and many other child soldiers.
Ms.Vandergrift: There are some interesting innovative ways of dealing with the economic dimension, and I think it is taking the livelihood model because often young people do need some from of livelihood. Perhaps some of the most interesting is actually using micro-credit schemes to help young people because they are entrepreneurial.
There is no consistent international standard. I am going to use this for a plug. Resolution 1460 called for the Secretary- General to document best practices in DDR. We have an opportunity as an advocacy community in October when that debate is re-engaged, not only to bring forward best practices, but to push for what you have suggested, which is some kind of international standard.
Ms. Balanon: There are opportunities for residential care. In the Philippines, we really do not have specific residential care for child soldiers because we have very few at the moment, but it is a place where children could be given life skills, could have education, continuing education, before their return to their families or to their communities.
Mr. Fontaine: I wanted to address the issue on the resources. Clearly, resources are an issue, and I hope this is what, to some extent, this event is about. We know it is an expensive work, and we know it is a long-term work. It is not only over a period of two or three months. It is a support that needs to go on for years in countries, making sure the children are given opportunities, making sure that children actually reintegrate in their communities in a positive sense.
There are initiatives in Burundi. There is the Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP), the World Bank and multi-donor program to which UNICEF and other parties contribute somehow. Is that enough? No, probably not, and obviously, there is a long-term effort to be made by the major donors on this issue.
Question: I am the Minister of the Human Rights and Institutional Relations in Burundi. I wanted to speak because you had asked the question about Burundi, and I work on the program of demobilization, reintegration, and prevention of child soldiers in Burundi, the program of which Adrien spoke that was put in place with the support of UNICEF.
This program has started, but to date, there have not been enough funds and support from the World Bank. But rest assured, we are working with UNICEF, and we are hoping that the World Bank will also contribute the funds that have been targeted for this.
I would now like to welcome the panelists who are going to make a short presentation on their effort on data collection. Data collection is extremely important in order to adapt programs, particularly the qualitative data in terms of adapting our programs to the reality on the ground. I would like to call, from the International Labor Organization (ILO), Christophe Gironde and Cheaka Toure.
What I want to share with you is the methodology developed for the rapid assessment of the situation of children used in armed conflict in Central Africa; the two Congos, Rwanda and Burundi.
The methodology is based on rapid assessment guidelines that were developed jointly by the ILO and UNICEF to investigate child labor. It is also based on the tools that Fafo Applied International Studies has developed for its research on child labor and research with children.The methodology also draws from existing information; reviewing what is already known was one of the tasks of national consultants.
The study is shaped by the life history of the children from the time before they were recruited to the time we conducted the survey.
Who was interviewed? Children are the core respondents of this survey: children who were member of an armed group at the time of the survey, former child soldiers, and children that had never been used in armed conflicts.
In addition to children, we interviewed parents of the three categories of children: parents of child soldiers, parents of former child soldiers, and parents whom children had never been used in armed conflicts.The main motivation for interviewing the parents is to get to understand which role, if any, they play in terms of prevention, reintegration, and their possible implication, voluntary or not, in the recruitment of their own children.
Another category of respondents is the representatives of armed groups. Interviewing armed groups representatives is aimed at understanding the rational for them to use children and under what circumstances children are not that brave, fearless, or useful anymore.
In addition to those three main categories, we conducted interviews with key informants with the specific objective to discuss preliminary findings, a key process of the rapid assessment methodology.
How did we select the respondents? The objective was to obtain a sample that as well as possible exhausted the range of situations and adaptations those children, as well as other actors, might have.The strategy for selecting respondents was then to maximize diversity, which consists in the selection of respondents that differed the most from each other.
We had two fundamental criteria for selecting the respondents, the age and the sex. Another criteria was the duration of involvement in armed groups; difference must be investigated between, for instance, some children from Congo-Brazzaville who were affiliated with armed groups for a couple of days for the purpose of looting the city, and children who crossed the DRC territory and were on the front line for several months.
Other criteria for selecting the respondents were the type of armed groups, the family socio-economic status before recruitement of the child, and the child having or not benefited assistance program.
Which instruments did we use for rapid assessment study? We combined three instruments: questionnaires, some structured interviews, and group discussions. The questionnaire provides standardized information, and its advantage is that it is a rather easy tool to make comparison between different locations within a country as well as between the four countries. Questionnaires are aimed also at highlighting relations between the variables, such as events prior to recruitment and the reasons that the children invoke for joining armed group.
Semi-structured interviews are aimed at digging into the information provided by the questionnaires and taking into account specificities, of the respondent and of any circumstances and factors explaining his story. Semi-structured interviews also provide the opportunity to address some of the issues that we do not want to impose into a questionnair, for instance sensitive issues related to combats.
The third instrument is group discussion. Its advantage is to highlight norms and values, as motives and rationales become more intelligible when they are discussed in-group and debated. Group discussions offer also a good opportunity to test preliminary findings.
These instruments were developed in three stages. First, we developed a draft of questionnaires and interview guidelines that were tested in two of the countries. Then we modified them accordingly to pilot-test learnings; third we submitted those tools to the national consultants during training session.
What were the difficulties we encountered? The main one pertains to the selection of respondents. It has been extremely difficult to get access to former child soldiers outside rehabilitation centers or military camps. And a limited number of girls could be interviewed.Another difficulty is that once you have identified possible respondents, it is not given that you will be allowed to interview the one you would like – or whom you think would be the most informative. Quite often, commandants of armed groups just indicated the children to be interview.
Another main difficulty is that such a methodology requires strong follow-up of field workers, which due to unexpected events on the field could not be done as we had planned.
I would like to stress some of the merits of this methodology and its outcome, the Wounded Childhood report that we have in hand today. First, the survey does not provide only findings, but also new questions that will orient and improve further research. Second, the survey goes above the usual categorization of children, being recruited voluntarily, being kidnapped, etc. We have highlighted many inbetween situations.
In addition, it goes above the root causes that we always refer to, regarding any social problems. Poverty is one root cause, but the poor are not all used in armed conflicts, and we have highlighted more minor events and circumstances of daily life that make a difference in the fate of children.
We have today a better knoledge and understanding of the situation of the use of children in armed conflicts in the four countries, not only because the Wounded Childhood Report provides findings but, also because it contains new questions and subjects for further investigation. Second, we have a tool for the second phase of the program that my colleague, Cheaka, is now going to talk about.
In addition to what my colleague said, I would like to underline four main ideas which serve as a guideline to the methodology, which we believe is innovative.
The first one is the national capacity building through involvement of training of national consultants in the design and the use of the methodology as well as in data collection, analysis, and interpretation of the preliminary research results. What is really important is the commitment of the national researchers in order to ensure progressive ownership of the results by the local stakeholders.
The second idea is the validation of the main findings of the studies by national stakeholders.
The third idea is capacity-building identification and formulation of solution-oriented approaches through a sub-regional workshop attended by high personnel from demobilization and integration programs, justice departments, departments of defense, labor and employment departments, and social welfare departments.
The aim of this sub-regional meeting was to increase the consensus of policy-makers on the specific aspects in each country and even more on the linkages between the problems at the regional level, to confront a large range of proposed solutions, and then to strengthen active collaboration between countries in the implementation of the measure of prevention and eradication of child participation in armed conflicts.
The fourth main idea is that ILO has conducted other research in eight countries worldwide, using an anthropological approach that aims to deepen our understanding of the reasons why children become involved in armed conflict when not physically forced to do so. The brochure on the Voices of Child Studies is an illustration.
Finally, all of these studies conducted in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America have shown us that the reeducation of the use of children in armed conflict needs imaginative and innovative solutions. Depending on the local constraints, a thorough understanding of the causes and the real needs of the child studies is necessary before we move to action.
Following the developments of the rapid data collection methodology, the ILO is now in the process to finalize the formulation of a global program on child studies with the kind support of U.S. dollars. Thank you.
Next we will focus on reintegration, which is the second “R” of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration (DDRR) process. Just to put it in context, previously we have talked about the issues of demobilization of child soldiers, and we talked about the importance of tracing and reunification. But I think that we all recognize that the reintegration of not only child soldiers, but all children who have been adversely affected by armed conflict, is what our combined mutual interests and concerns are all about.
Our efforts are aimed at the next generation, and the long-term impact of conflict on children in terms of their growth into becoming responsible and productive adults is what we should be focusing on.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the program that the Department of Labor put together, the Parallel Youth Program, which brought some former child soldiers and children affected by conflict here to work with students of the JFK High School. I think it is an excellent opportunity to not only help our friends from conflict-affected countries to recognize there are opportunities for support and collaboration and to learn lessons from other colleagues, but also to raise the awareness of the students in America.
Somebody told me just a little while ago that the most common theme from conversations with students at JFK High School was the fact that they were not aware of this. They were saying,“Why didn’t anybody tell us about this?” There is a sense of compassion, and there is that sense of youthful ambition to do something that I think everybody has here, and we realize that the only real solution is to create this awareness and to empower our own youth to work with youth from around the world. So I congratulate the Department of Labor for making that program possible. I think it is excellent.
And for our young people who are sitting in front of me, I encourage you to engage in this current workshop. If you have questions or you would like to participate in answering some questions that are raised, I think you are the ones who recognize what is important in the post-conflict normalization for your friends and your colleagues, what you have been through, what makes sense.
Without further ado, I want to introduce the panelists on this workshop. First, I want to introduce an old friend and somebody that I am sure that all of you who are in the business know. Dr. Maria de la Soudiere is the director of the Children Affected by Armed Conflict Unit of the International Rescue Committee in New York.
Marie holds a Master of Social Work from Stoneybrook University and received an honorary Ph.D. in Social Sciences from Yale University recently.
She started her overseas career with the Cambodian refugee crisis when she was in charge of a comprehensive program for separated children in refugee camps in Thailand, and for the past 20 years, she has developed psychosocial policies and programs for women and children in more than a dozen troubled countries.
I could go on and on, but all I want to say is that we have a living legend in our presence, and I want to acknowledge that. I just want to cut my comments short because I want to hear what Marie and her colleagues have to say.
Next, we have Virginia Brown who is a program officer with the International Organization for Migration, and she coordinates the Strengthening Peace Program and the Support Program for ExCombatant Children in Colombia.
Formerly, Ms. Brown designed a monitoring system for IOM’s programs to assist internally displaced persons and child soldiers and also worked for the Colombian government at both local and national levels, and I want to say that Ms. Brown has an extraordinary résumé of working at the highest level. She is a lawyer from the University of Santa Tomás de Aquino with a Master’s Degree in public policy and administration from Colombia University and has served as an advisor at the presidential and vice presidential level and has worked — I have to put this plug in for USAID — in Nicaragua, so welcome.
And finally, another living legend. For anybody who has had anything to do with Sri Lanka, Dr. Harendra de Silva is the chairman of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) in Sri Lanka, an agency established by the government to advise the government on national policy for the prevention of child abuse and the protection and treatment of children who are victims of abuse. NCPA’s activities under Dr. de Silva’s leadership have helped to increase awareness of child abuse and the need to protect children from exploitive child labor and trafficking.
As a professor of pediatrics, Dr. de Silva has researched the effects of conscription on children in armed conflict and has treated children who have suffered trauma as a result of war. Dr. de Silva is head of the Department of Pediatrics with the faculty of medicine.
MARIE DE LA SOUDIERE
Reintegration of former child soldiers. I am sure this is a question that is foremost on our mind. Demobilization is wonderful. It is a time to rejoice any time when a child leaves the armed forces. Sometimes it is only through formal demobilization, and then what? Is it realistic to think that there are good chances for recovery, that the children will lead peaceful, healthy civilian life?
We are justified in worrying about that. Are children so traumatized by exposure as well as participation and violence that the chances for recovery are very slim? Well, anyone in this room, I am sure, who has worked with former child soldiers for any length of time will tell you that there is great hope, that all the things we hear about little monsters being created is usually not the case if certain conditions are met.
What we are finding out is adults have not succeeded in destroying the children’s humanity. We do not have the full picture yet. We do not know what is going to happen over time, for instance, when these children grow up to be adults and have children of their own. It is a bit too soon, although there is some indication from previous war that things are not quite as dire as we feared.
So we do not have all the answers, but there is already an emerging picture, and this picture points to some elements. There are some critical elements that appear to be essential for successful reintegration.
Let’s briefly go through them, and I am sure it is not a complete picture, but this is what is emerging at this time. The children need full, unmitigated acceptance by their family and their community. They need to successfully elaborate an identity through assuming a role approved of and by their group, by their community. The identity, a new identity formation is very important.
Something else which is somewhat linked with this identity development is that we have to ensure that the children are engaged in meaningful activities.
Let’s look at this acceptance first. This varies, obviously, depending on a lot of factors, whether the child will be accepted and how difficult this process will be. Some of the obvious ones are which side of the conflict is a child and the community on, are they on the same or the opposite side? We talk a great deal about acceptance, but in some places when children are involved in liberation struggle for their own people, they actually are seen as heroes and they go home, but the opposite is obviously pretty clear.
The level of brutality of the armed group that the children have been with is also another factor, and where did this atrocity take place? Was it in a far-away part of the land, or were they close or even within their communities?
From our experience we see that, by and large, communities do accept former child soldiers back. They take them back.
It is rather extraordinary, even in place where children have committed atrocity right within their village. By and large, the communities and the parents take them back, not necessarily immediately, and in some places, a lot of advance work on negotiation and sensitization and dialogue needs to take place with communities. But again, in my experience, very, very few children cannot go home.
In addition to the advanced dialogue, negotiation and sensitization, some communities have special ceremonies which are critical to the full acceptance of the child.
For the girls, for instance, in Sierra Leone, they have special ceremonies called libations, but all the boys as well undergo cleansing ceremonies or whatever it takes, different names, in different countries. It is important that the process be supported.
Let’s look at the creation of identity and meaningful activities. This is where an outsider can help the most because the children are going back to devastated societies, and what sort of activities will they be able to resume or pick up? Schools. I am sure this was talked about. Schools are often devastated. We can facilitate their return to school.
Younger children go to school, but you will also find that older children who missed out on school are allowed. A 17- year-old can sit on benches with a 10yearold. I have seen that.
Skills training and finding ways to earn a living are really important. Most of the policy-makers come from the west, western societies and from the urban background, and all we can think of are carpentry, masonry, tailoring, perhaps blacksmithing if we are a little more daring. But we sometimes forget that the sector that could hold the largest number of these children would be the agricultural sector.
There is a lot that can be done there in animal husbandry, food processing, improved agricultural practices.This has not been tapped enough, but it is happening.
In many places, focusing on the children themselves is critical, but is not sufficient. As you can imagine, if you only focus on the returning child soldiers, it can create a sort of tension with other youth that are sharing the fate of devastated society and do not have any opportunities.
In a lot of places where there have been massive infrastructure destruction or destruction of services, we must be prepared to assist communities in ways that are meaningful to them. After all, when we talk about reintegration, what are we reintegrating the children into? So this is a critical element of reintegration which, again, is sometimes overlooked because of the dire situation of the child.
But this is quite feasible. We can create a community project. We ask communities what they want. Sometimes they want help with their school, or a lot of the time, again, agricultural programs. They can define what would be useful for them.
In conclusion, I would say that the prospect for a healthy reintegration and the children taken on a civilian identity are good. The prospects are good if we are prepared to support in all the ways that I enumerated, and others that perhaps we can discuss later.
So we need resources, and we need time. As you can imagine, it is not a matter of six months to one year. It takes a lot longer.
I want to thank Secretary Chao for giving us the opportunity to highlight the cruel situation faced by 7,000 to 10,000 children in Colombia.
Colombia has a population of approximately 41 million people, of which 60 percent live under the poverty line. Every 10 minutes, a family is displaced. Twelve children die as a result of a violent act every day. Thirty-nine percent of the demobilized people are children.
Colombia has an ongoing escalating conflict that involves the government’s armed forces, guerrilla forces, and self-defense groups. The two main guerrilla groups are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The primary self-defense group is the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
Seventy-three percent of Colombian child soldiers demobilize voluntarily. Twenty-six percent are captured. Seventy-two percent are males, and 28 percent are females. The average age of demobilization is 17 for boys and 15 for girls. Third grade is the average level of education of Colombian former child soldiers.
The IOM's support program for ex-combatant children in Colombia includes a prevention strategy and contingency plan in case of a massive demobilization, but we are going to focus today on our reintegration strategy.
There is a belief that the most effective integration depends on family reunification. However, this assumption is based on post-conflict experiences, and this is not applicable for Colombia due to the ongoing situation of armed conflict and the security risks posed in sending youth back to their origina lcommunities.
The components of the reintegration strategy are: first, strengthening of the assistance process carried out by the Colombian Family Welfare Institute which has the legal mandate to protect children in Colombia; second, improvement of the legal standing in Colombia for ex-combatant children; third, awareness raising and dissemination of information to the public and for the combatant children; and fourth, support to the indigenous and Afro-Colombian minorities.
First, the strengthening of the assistance process carried out by the Colombia Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) through a program developed to assist ex-combatant children who are in the midst of the conflict. To date, 773 children have been assisted. The program provides shelter, food, clothing, and individual psycho- social care. Each center has a psychologist and a social worker, cultural activities, and regular education. Seventy-two percent of the ex-combatant children are part of the regular education system.
Second, the improvement of the legal standing for ex-combatant children. One of the primary goals of the program is to strengthen initiatives which aim to clarify the legal status of former child combatants, restore their full rights, and protect them against future criminal prosecution.
As a result of the program, a legal framework clarifying the status of the ex-combatant children was developed. This framework has served as a road map for judges, lawyers, and family defenders in navigating Colombia’s legal system. To date, 1,500 legal and administrative authorities relevant to the child demobilization process have been trained. There is a direct correlation between the number of authorities trained and the number of children that leave the armed groups, who join our program and are protected.
Third, awareness raising and dissemination of information. The program has sponsored workshops, seminars, pamphlets, and books. It is about to start a massive campaign to raise awareness among the general public on child soldiers and their status as victims of the conflict.We have also started a campaign that targets the private sector to engage them in their reintegration process through internships and job placement opportunities.
Fourth, support to indigenous and Afro-Colombian minorities. The main motivating factors to undertake a special program for the indigenous population are: first, indigenous communities have their own legal codes and a special treatment within the Colombian constitution; second, indigenous children are at high risk being recruited into the armed conflict due to their relative high poverty level rates and locations in rural areas; and third, up to 90 percent of the indigenous youth return directly to their communities upon leaving the armed groups. The program works directly with the indigenous authorities. The program covers approximately 35 percent of the total indigenous population of the country. The integration for indigenous people focuses on smoothing the transition of returning children back into the community through income-generating activities and education. IOM is working to change community perceptions and make ex-combatant youth more productive and feel more self-worthy.
The reintegration assistance model: The program starts exploring family reunification as soon as the child joins the program as the most sustainable strategy for social reintegration. However, the nature of the ongoing conflict in many of the children's native communities limits their possibilities to reunite with their families. Only 33 percent of the children have been able to do it.
To tackle this situation, the program developed three different phases in which children from opposing groups are placed together and live together. The first phase is a transit home. The focus is to assess children's needs and background, develop an individual life plan and familiarize the children with the program. It lasts four to six weeks. Each center provides assistance to up to 25 children, and there are two centers.
The second phase is a specialized attention center which focuses on recovering children's basic rights to life, education, physical and mental health, and family reunification. It lasts 6 to 12 months. Each center provides assistance to up to 25 children. Currently, there are nine centers.
The third phase is the halfway home which was designed for children unable or unwilling to reunify with their families. They participate in educational and vocational activities targeted at social insertion. It lasts one year. Each home assists up to seven children. There are currently seven halfway homes.
The geographical location of the program: Most of the centers, 18 in total now, are located in the central and western part of the country. As I mentioned earlier, the program aims at strengthening the Colombian government Program already in place and developing a special program for ethnic minorities. Most of the efforts to improve the integration process have been focused in two areas: education and income generation.
Education is reaching 72 percent of the children in the program. The program has a scholarship fund that gives priority to those children that are not covered by the Colombian government, and to children already reunited with their families.
Given the ex-combatant discomfort at attending classes with children much younger, most centers rely on a methodology of accelerated learning in which former child soldiers have the opportunity to catch up to the level that corresponds to their age in order to prepare them for entry into the Colombian school system.
In addition, the program funds a teacher for each center who is responsible for locating appropriate nearby schools, assisting children with their required paperwork and registration process, and monitoring the overall quality of the education program.
Before the Program developed an income generation strategy there were some trial and errors that pointed out the need for having a solid strategy. The strategy relies on a basic model of promoting sustainable insertion by focusing on target sectors. The strategy identifies sectors that have three basic characteristics: First, not much need for specialized training; second, intensive use of unskilled labor and, third, competitive sectors.
The selected sectors take into consideration the profile of the program beneficiaries, which includes their low level of education and their lack of prior work experience. The target sectors identified were shoes manufacturing, furniture and wood products, jewelry, service sectors and agro-industry. The model also takes into account the general trend of rural migration to urban centers and thus has focused on job opportunities within cities. In the defined sectors, the goal will be to secure agreements with representative guilds or directly with the enterprises to guarantee training and apprentice opportunities for the youth.
Finally, the program’s challenges: We have many, but I am going to highlight one. We believe the main challenge in Colombia continues to be the implementation of a reintegration program in the midst of the ongoing and escalating conflict. I thank you.
DR. HARENDRA DE SILVA
First of all, let me thank the Department of Labor for hosting us here.
I think when you look at the whole process of rehabilitation and reintegration, we have to look at the broader perspectives or have the big picture first and then gradually focus on individual issues.
If you look at the political factors in the country environment, I think one which we have to think about is the power factors in all conflicts that focus away from children. The children and youth are a major proportion of many armed conflicts or armed processes, and in most areas, there would be no conflict if children were not recruited. We have to understand that point.
Impunity makes the warring factions unaccountable in all aspects, including the abduction and recruitment of children, while making everybody else accountable.
It is also important to understand that the violent or ruthless nature of rebel groups make negotiators, including governments, frightened and helpless.
We see division, isolation, and polarization of communities in all conflicts, and these are important factors to consider which make reintegration quite difficult.
Let us look at another aspect – the attitudes of peace negotiators and the international community. Paradoxically, sometimes these attitudes could affect the reintegration process. First of all, there is the focus on a traditional top-down peace process by negotiators which concentrates on boundaries, power sharing, and signatures. There is an absence of community participation and an absence of a bottom-up peace process, and children are often conveniently forgotten in the process.
The use of child soldiers is a sensitive topic, and it is sometimes avoided by the negotiators. So reintegration and rehabilitation becomes a problem.This, in fact, amounts to insensitivities to the human rights of children as compared to adults’ rights.
Let us look at a narrow part, which is the local community and the attitudes of stigma. The confusion as to whether a child is a victim or a perpetrator is a major issue.
The safety of the community. The political affiliations of the community, the intelligence of the recruiters, and the fear of recruiters striking back on the community is something which hinders the reintegration process, and which is a major problem in Sri Lanka.
Then we have to think of the resources. We have discussed that many times, resources are made available to the community, including economic and human resources, and I must raise the importance of expertise. In the absence of expertise, some of the programs would be more harmful than helpful.
The society should realize that the children are not perpetrators but victims, and that they are no longer harmful to society and they could be useful citizens. We need programs to educate the public. In fact, we have done several video, CD’s, and other things like songs in the education process to focus on this issue.
We need to think of the family. Again, there exists an issue of stigma to the family because of the child who has been recruited. Then we are to think of the fear of recruitment by the family, which again hinders the reintegration process, the economic situation of the family, and whether the family is able to support the child or the youth after the demobilization process.
Single parents and orphans have often been targeted by the recruiters, and the same applies when it comes to reintegration. The children become vulnerable, and the reintegration process becomes very difficult, especially because of the prospects of rerecruitment.
Alcoholism in the father and domestic violence have been shown to be major factors that affect recruitment, especially of girl children in Sri Lanka, and when it comes to reintegration, the same factors affect the family and the child in that process of reintegration.
Of course, the lack of extended family support. We know in the rural areas, the extended family support is good, but the extended family may not be helpful for the fear of repercussions by the rebel groups.
When we should look at the individual. We have to think of the attitudes of the child, the recruit himself or herself, the extent of brainwashing and/or emotional abuse that they have faced.
The extent of trauma before and after the recruitment, and the number of killings they have seen and the number of killings they have been involved in have to be considered.
I think not having any skills other than being trained in violence is another huge factor that affects the reintegration process.
This is the story of a young girl of 16: “We were lost and hungry. An old man was carrying a loaf of bread. I shot him, and we ate the bread. A small boy saw us and screamed. I shot him.” She had no remorse when relating her part. “My own people shot my father after I surrendered.”
You can imagine the amount of trauma that this child has faced, and we cannot reintegrate that child over weeks. It will take months, if not years, and that is why we need to focus on the psychological rehabilitation of children. Often this gets dropped out because we do not have the skills or the expertise for it. Then, of course, formal, non-formal education, and vocational training are also important.
We have to avoid spending large sums of money on symbolic projects. We have to stop reinventing the wheel. There are enough methodologies to start acting. This does not mean we have to stop the strategies, however. We have to spend money on real projects that reach grass roots, and we have to have programs that are sustainable, both at the macro, i.e., the institutional level, and individual or the micro level.
Of course, ineffective programs could have a negative impact on demobilization. We need appropriate vocational training. We have to consider the availability of facilities and the demand or the need for particular skills in that relevant geographic area. These are some examples. Thank you.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Question: One presenter expressed a hope that most children actually can go back, and I do agree with that in my experience. What I would like to emphasize is that a lot of the children do not want to go back, and in particular, a large group of the child soldiers that are 16 or 17. This is quite a different group, and they require a different kind of assistance that is less victim- and family-based, and more geared toward starting a business and vocational training. I was wondering if anyone has experience to share on this point.
Question: How can reintegration or rehabilitation programs help to empower children or teach them about their rights? Secondly, how can people reach the children who have been affected by war – like the amputees, displaced children or prostitutes – and help them through these rehabilitation or reintegration programs?
Ms. Brown: I think there was a misunderstanding. What I said about the third phase of the program was that this is what we call halfway homes. The purpose of creating this phase was to assist children who do not go back to their homes or who do not want to go back because they would be going back to the causes that led them to join the armed groups, such as domestic violence. So I agree with you that in many cases, children just don’t want to go back.
Ms. de la Soudiere: I was very interested that what you said, that many children do not want to go home. I was actually trying to consider how many child soldier situations in the last 20 or so odd years I have worked in. From Cambodia to Sierra Leone, Uganda, South Sudan, and Rwanda. There were quite a few.
In my experience — but, again, it was not Colombia, so I think it is very specific — the overwhelming majority of children want to go home.
Now, they may have fear. They may have legitimate fear. It is up to us to negotiate and discuss and to see whether or not there is an opportunity to work through the sort of rejection through a process of dialogue with the community and see if it is reconcilable. This is a very, very important topic, but in my experience, there are very few children who do not want to go home.
Dr. de Silva: I think it depends on the situation. For example, in Sri Lanka, it is almost impossible for many children to go back to where the rebels are active because they are going to either get punished by being imprisoned, they may get killed, or re-recruited. So even though some children want to go back, it makes it impossible. But it depends on whether they could go to another relative’s house, maybe somewhere else where the threat is not so severe. So I think it depends on the kind of situation, and it also depends how far the rebels have their information, informants and their intelligence networks, and so on.
Mr. Feinberg: Would any of the panelists like to comment briefly on the question on empowerment of children and allowing for their voices to be heard?
Ms. de la Soudiere: Well, I thought this was a very good reminder for all of us here. Yes, we do latch on, and it is very important to highlight particular categories of children that are suffering. At this conference we have concentrated on child soldiers, but this is a very good reminder that there are other victims of war.
I touched a little bit, but not very much, in my short presentation saying also what are we reintegrating children into. We have to look at the larger picture. We cannot just help the child soldier in isolation to all the others that are suffering.
Question: Just to follow on what was just said, something that was mentioned in passing throughout the day, but I think needs to be reemphasized is the arms trade. In a lot of these countries and a lot of these strategies to rehabilitation child soldiers or demobilizing child soldiers, the weapons of war, the tools of violence are not being addressed. It is very empowering for communities as a whole and for these children to be part of the weapons collection process, the destruction process. It can help the community heal as well.
In addition, in the community, as these youth are being involved in these projects, it is important to create norms of non-possession of these military weapons. What kinds of related strategies are being incorporated by the non-governmental organizations or through government programs, because often we are so concerned with helping children get the skills that they need that we are preventing the tools of violence from being destroyed in those situations.
Question: I have two questions. As Dr. de Silva mentioned, it can take years as far as a child being able to recover from psychological trauma, and one of my questions is if you can expand on the lack of mental health professionals in developing countries.
I think from my experiences, there are a few people from developing countries who come to the United States to get trained in social work and return back to their countries, but because of the lack of opportunities or the pay, they end up staying here in the United States. So, with many children needing these types of services, who is carrying it out?
Then, the second question also goes back to the lack of data and methodology and if you could expand on the lack of empirical research on research-based practices or the clinical interventions to address these children and how that impact is creating solutions?
Question: One of the important points that I have heard from this panel today is the need not only to rehabilitate ex-child soldiers and children involved in wars, but also to mount public awareness campaigns to prepare the public at the community level and also at the national level for the reintegration of these children into society.
Having worked extensively on this issue, I am wondering what message you think would be most effective, and how this message could be communicated to the public?
Question: I just want to start by saying every child wants love. Every child wants to be trusted, and every child wants confidence, and that child wants to be like any other child.
I think it is very important that our program foster acceptance, and the children can be accepted if the community has the culture to forgive and if that child has the culture of humility to say “I am sorry.” I believe that that is where people have the mutual respect for one another.
It is imperative that these children get skills training and are placed in education, but the girl child increasingly gets invisible. She gets lost.
We have found cases where the girl children have not come through the real process of transit. They go straight home, and eventually, when you are conducting studies, you discover that they have HIV/AIDS. You discover that they have STD’s. You discover them. How can we increasingly make sure that the reproductive health problems of these girl children are addressed?
I also want to reiterate the question about guns. Last December, we had over 3,000 rebels who signed a peace deal in the West Nile region. The children were handed over to a ministry with UNICEF. Only one child could not go back home out of 137 children, but when the full data was collected in the end, the children who needed support were near to 800. How do you reach out to those invisible children?
Dr. de Silva: I think the issue was small arms. This is very important because in most of the conflicts, child recruitment is mainly due to small arms. There is an estimated 600 million small arms in the world, and there is currently an organization campaigning to pressure the governments or the countries that produce small arms to restrict their sale.
In regards to the issue of psychological experts, in Sri Lanka we have less than about six clinical psychologists. It is very difficult to address the problem of psychological rehabilitation. But nevertheless we can not avoid the issue because we are putting people out into the community who are psychologically disturbed. So what we are trying to do is to have that small core group train a middle-level group of trainers, a training of trainers to build a middle level which is strong enough. We can not wait for psychologists, as somebody mentioned. When they go out for training, they do not come back.
So, we must build a strong middle level with appropriate training — the correct training, because incorrect processes and procedures can be more harmful in the psychological rehabilitation program than not doing anything. We must support a middle level and have grassroots-level counselors who are appropriately trained. This strategy should be adopted because we cannot afford to wait for clinical psychologists to be trained over a period of 10 years.
Ms. de la Soudiere: Every child needs and wants love, to be trusted, to be accepted. Again, the jury is still a little bit out there. We are doing some research, but not enough. We are seeing that there is a tremendous capacity for healing children within the community. If communities are given support and a little bit of direction, and if the children are fully accepted, in addition to all of the interventions we have been talking about, then they will recover.
There will be a few that may need some more western-style counseling. But in my experience, it is not the vast majority. People have their ways. They may not look like what we in the west feel. It is not this individual attention, counseling, talking about the traumatic experience. But that is only one model because mental health has been somewhat hijacked by the west in the way we are coming with our ideas and our funding. In some cases, we are really imposing it on societies who have other ways. I think it is our responsibility to listen first and to identify those strengths and support them before we try to put another model.
Ms. Brown: Regarding the question on awareness-raising campaigns and messages, in the Colombian case, the first message we tried to send is the children are victims of the conflict. In the case of the Colombian legal authorities, we have trained them about the legal standing of combatant children; in the case of the communities, we have focused on the acceptance of the children; in the case of the children, they are taught about their rights; and in the case of the private sector, about providing opportunities to the children for internships or job placements.
Question: I am happy to hear all the comments about reintegration from all the speakers. One comment I have to make is to insist that the community should be rehabilitated before you rehabilitate the child soldier. I suffered less in the hands of rebels compared to the suffering I went through in the process of rehabilitation.
Question: Most often we look at the child soldier as someone who is a victim, but we do not take into consideration the strengths of that particular individual. And rather than focusing only on the losses and the fears, equally well, the child has some strengths. If we could build upon their strengths in our programming and could then tie it into the reintegration process, I think it would be very helpful. Last but not least, with regards to a community inclusive program, it is important to look at other children within the community. We must not look at child soldiers as if the program that is being designed is only to glorify children who have already handled guns, thereby neglecting the other children whose needs are also apparent.
Mr. Feinberg: Thank you very much, and I am pleased to conclude this workshop on the note of building on strengths and building on resilience. I think that is the crucial issue. Again, on behalf the panel, I wish to thank you all for your attention.
Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here, and I would like to bring you greetings from Uganda, particularly from my national director of World VisionUganda.
I would also like to bring you greetings from the children who are now in rehabilitation in our center. We have two children that have come with us and are here to represent the other 15,000 children who have been abducted in the northern part of Uganda – Paul and Grace.
We are very grateful to the Department of Labor for giving us this opportunity to come to the United States. It is something we never expected, but we are very proud to be here. Thank you very much.
Uganda’s children of war rehabilitation program is one of the many programs that World Vision is implementing in the northern part of Uganda, and this program handles formerly abducted children. These are child soldiers. As they come home from captivity, they have been through quite a lot.
Many come back with gunshot wounds. Many of them come back with injuries or abnormal pain because they have been taking unsafe water. Many of them come back very weak and malnourished.
The girls have special problems. Most of them have been sexually abused and made to be wives.
As they come back, their condition is actually so bad, you cannot help shedding tears. Many children come back with torn clothing, very weak. So the center staff makes sure they are given a warm reception. They are briefed and given a warm welcome in the center as they start their rehabilitation and healing process.
Many children in captivity have no clothes. We make sure we give them clothes to start a living. Mattresses look very strange to them because for 3 or 4 years, they were not sleeping on mattresses. We provide them with three meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and supper. This will help them to recover.
Another activity which is very important is medical care. We give them first aid treatment from the center clinic, and then they are taken to the hospital for a thorough medical examination.
Staff takes time to talk to these children and encourage them to open up and to share their problems. This helps us to know where to start from.
In the program, children are encouraged to play. They participate in football. They participate in volleyball. This is a therapy that helps to start the healing process, and they like it so much.
Traditional dances. This is a useful activity that the children enjoy. It helps them stay busy, and it promotes healing.
Dances. Using instruments and drums is very important. Some of you may be surprised to see our girls are naked, but this is how they dress up, and it is normal in our culture. Girls can dance like that.
Acting. Children are encouraged to act in drama.They are asked to demonstrate what they did while in captivity. This helps to make a child remember what they did, and it also helps them to forget.
The AK-47 is the type of gun that is very common in captivity. All the children who have been in captivity can dismantle and reassemble within a very few seconds.
The activities we have in the center encourage children to help and to give support. Many come to us when they have been amputated. They cannot walk, but their peers in the center help them, bring food to them, talk to them, and encourage them.
Unwanted pregnancy. Many, almost 99 percent of the girls have been given to these rebel commanders, and many of them come out with unwanted pregnancies. They come out with babies.
We try to encourage the children to go back to school. They believe that going back to school is the best option for future life. We have girls returning for formal education or for vocational skills training.
Some children are brought to the center without an identity. They are found in the battlefield, and the army brings them to us. After a while in the center, they find other children and they stay together. They are also encouraged now to play.
Training. Capacity building among staff is very important. Staff take days off from the center for debriefing and to regain their strength after hearing all the sad stories. It is here that team building is encouraged among the staff. Without team building, the work is so challenging. We have been successful because of the strong teamwork.
Eventually the time comes for the children to go home. We provide them with reunion packages that include mattresses, sleepers, and even food. So this gives them a degree of acceptability in their communities. The mothers receive their children with tears after all of the years.
For the first half of 2002, the population intake was slow. But all of a sudden in August, the number started increasing. It has continued like that up to now. At this time we have over 240 children who are being rehabilitated.
I want to talk to you about one of the catastrophes that people in the north face. Amputation is very common, and 51 percent of amputation in the north is as a result of war because of antipersonnel mines.
I want to end by discussing our challenges. We deal with continuing insecurity, a high rate of violence, and a high rate of abduction. Many victims are young children and adults. The high rate of return from the bush has put a lot of pressure on the rehabilitation centers. There is also a high prevalence of psychological or mental health problems among children and adults in the northern part of Uganda. Children who are living on the street because of their displacement now come for refuge in the town, and they are put up in verandas. Others are put up in bus stops where they are vulnerable to abduction. Furthermore, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the area is high because of the population displacement is so high.
We have a few suggestions to make. One of them is, where possible, we would suggest that there should be educational support for the many formerly abducted children and other children affected by war. Where possible, there could be vocational skill training and micro-enterprise projects for children affected by war. We also suggest sports and recreational activities in schools, programs for children born in captivity and their mothers, and advocacy, like what we have now. And finally we suggest capacity building and psychological care for teachers and communities, as well as psychological care for staff.
This is briefly what I wanted to present to you. Thank you very much.
Good afternoon. My name is Mattito Watson. I manage a Youth-at-Risk Rehabilitation Project for Save the Children/US in the Republic of Guinea.
In my presentation today, I am going to go over quite a few of the reintegration methodologies that we use in West Africa for the project in Guinea, that covers refugees coming from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and more recently, Côte d’Ivoire.
Our project tries to find multiple approaches and activities for target populations, including child combatants that are located within the refugee camps in Guinea. It is a community-based approach where we work directly with members of the community to not only train them on how to deal with these kinds of populations, but also give them additional skills for identifying youth within those communities that may need extra assistance.
It is a youth-oriented project. This means there is a lot of youth participation. We try to train the youth on how to advocate for themselves and on how they can also be active members in problemsolving for the issues that they are addressing.
The Save the Children project is broken into three major components: the psychosocial component, which is also known as our youth component, the protection component, and the skills training component.
I want to give you a little bit of a background. We talked quite a bit over the past few days specifically about Sierra Leone. There is a lot of information coming out of that country right now. It is one of the most recent conflicts and a very brutal conflict that involved a lot of child soldiers, and had a serious impact on youth.
Many of the refugees from the Mano River Union, which is Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, are housed in Guinea, and Save the Children currently has projects in seven refugee camps in Guinea and operates three regional offices. While Guinea is very poor on resources, it is one of the politically stable countries in the region, thus giving the opportunities to house lots of refugees.
As I said, there are lots of refugees from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire, there are very dynamic population changes going on, repatriation is currently occurring in Sierra Leone, and there is also a lot of fighting in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire at the moment.
The security situation in Guinea is not stable as the rebel forces continue to approach closer and closer to the Guinean border. This is not only threatening the Guinean population, but it is also threatening the refugees. Furthermore, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) attacks from Sierra Leone in 2001 resulted in a strong xenophobic reaction by the Guinean people towards refugees, and especially toward young adults who led the primary attack on Guinea back then.
I know we have talked a lot about Sierra Leone. It has been peaceful since 2002, lots of people are returning, and I think the big focus in Sierra Leone right now is looking at the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process and what will happen to the large populations of former child soldiers there.
Liberia started a lot of the conflicts in West Africa back in 1991, and there has been a tremendous resurgence of fighting in the region there since the spring of 2002. Both the rebel group known as the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) as well as government forces are actively recruiting children to fight as child soldiers, and there are large numbers of Liberian refugees who are currently crossing into Guinea for protection reasons.
I left Guinea on Saturday, and we had 13,000 refugees, mostly women and children, who were trying to get over to Guinea and into the protection of refugee camps there.
Our most recent player in the region is Côte d’Ivoire. There is a lot of fighting occurring, especially in the west. Yesterday we heard that many of the players that have been recruiting and working with child soldiers are moving back and forth between these countries. You can still find lots of these folks now in western Côte d’Ivoire.
So our project uses a web of support to facilitate reintegration back into the refugee community. It is very difficult because we are dealing with false communities. We are dealing with communities of refugees, people from different places, different cultures, different backgrounds, and trying to bring that community together in order to assist youth at risk, including former child combatants. To get the support they need is not an easy task.
We go with the youth-at-risk approach rather than a childcombatant approach. This is the second year of this project, and last year when I worked on it, we focused exclusively on child soldiers. The big problem there is that it creates a stigma for those individuals.
Save the Children got the label as the child soldier organization, and any children who were working with us were automatically assumed to be child soldiers. Since then, we learned this lesson very quickly. We have expanded our clientele to include a wide variety of individuals who have been impacted by war.
Moreover, I think it is a reintegration project, and it is very hard to reintegrate individuals if you only have child soldiers or you are only working with child soldiers. So we try to include all youth, aged 13 to 21, in our activities. It provides an excellent opportunity for youth who have been impacted by war to interact with one another, rebuild some of their social skills, and recapture some of the things that they lost growing up within a conflict situation.
However, we do have individuals that we target as high vulnerables or protection cases. These include, of course, former child combatants. There is a very large population of children and youth who abandoned their commanders and fled to Guinea for safety. Many young women who have been impacted by the war use commercial sex work to survive, and as a result, lots of young mothers are actually children themselves who have lost part of their childhood trying to raise children of their own.
Many youth who have witnessed or experienced traumatic events are having difficulty processing these events and continuing on, physically and emotionally. Socially handicapped youth are having trouble dealing with their peers, they are ashamed of their appearance, or they are trying to digest the trauma of what has happened to them. There is also a large number of childheaded households and separated children, of course.
We do not do work with family tracing and reunion (FTR), but we do work closely with the partners who do, by providing additional reintegration support for these kids as they are trying to locate their families.
We talked quite a bit yesterday about many of the types of clients, but I want to introduce you to two clients of ours.
One is C.J. She is 20-year-old former Liberian child combatant. She has been a survivor of multiple rapes and is now a mother. She does not know who the father of her child is.
When we met her, she was working as a commercial sex worker within the refugee camps. She did not have a caretaker, and she was need of a lot of parenting support. She needs to learn skills and know how to read and write. She needs additional protection and material support.
She sold her ration card that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave her to buy food for her baby, and thus, prevented her future access to food.
Client No. 2 is D.C. He was one of our first clients in this project. Client No. 2 was captured by the RUF when he was around 8 years old. He fought with the RUF until he was 12 or 13 and escaped. His community urged him to join a pro-government military group, to redeem himself for the atrocities that he had caused with the RUF. It did not take long for D.C. to realize that the grass was not greener on the other side.
He fled to Guinea only to basically be sold into slavery. A man met him as he was begging on the streets and said “I can help you.” The man took him to Conakry, the capital city, and sold him to a vendor. D.C. sold water for about 6 months for basically no money, no shelter, and only a little bit of food, before he was identified and brought to the refugee camps.
He lives with two other former child combatants, but he is having a lot of difficulty reintegrating back into his community. He is very aggressive, very withdrawn, and because of all of the physical hardships endured during his time as a child soldier, he has a lot of very serious health problems that are affecting him now.
The problem with D.C. right now is he is terrified to go back to Sierra Leone. He has no one to protect him there. He does not know what is waiting for him there, or if all the things that he did during the war will result in retribution on him when he goes back.
These are just two of hundreds and hundreds of children and youth that we work with in the refugee camps in Guinea.
Our program looks to a variety of different types of reintegration activities in order to provide not only choice, but also different methodologies to assist these children in reintegration. Our youth program is, more or less, what we call our psychosocial program. We try to provide opportunities and activities for youth to come together to express themselves, to let off some of their anger, and to let off some of their fear. The youth conform themselves into youth clubs, which we support. They range from rap groups to drama clubs to debate teams to football teams. Anything the youth want to do, we try to help them to organize and we provide the materials for their activities.
At the same time, if we find other youth who are disaffected from their communities, it is very easy for us to insert those children into these peer groups for additional support.
I think it has been mentioned many times, the power of play as a form of healing after a conflict, and we do a lot of play activities with all the children in the camps. We have football teams, basketball courts, volleyball courts, kickball, tether ball, and whatever else we can get the kids out to do so that they are playing. We have also been lucky enough to get our hands on some Scrabble games, Monopoly games, and cards. These provide a very good opportunity for the kids to come together on a social level and have some healthy competition.
We offer a lot of creative activities. We try to have something with a solid product at the end, whether it is painting, social drama activities, sculpture, dance, rap, or some other way that the children can have a healthy, dignified way to tell their stories and that we can acknowledge what they have gone through. I think it is a good stepping stone for them to continue on with the healing process.
We support child participation forums. Through these forums, children are provided with an opportunity to address the key members of their community as well as the international community through speeches, debates, and drama. We usually have them about every three months so that the kids can come together and have a chance to express their point of view.
We try to supervise all of these activities with positive social role models within the community, whether part of the Save the Children staff or members of the religious community or the civil leadership in the camps.
We are doing active monitoring and evaluation and trying to find which psychosocial activities work and why do they work. We carry out baseline studies and interviews with the children throughout the time that they are with our reintegration project.
Our protection program is the most individualized of our programs. While children are impacted by war, they are impacted in different ways, and even though cooks can be considered child soldiers, you need to have different kinds of support than someone who carried a gun for 6 years. So we individualize our protection program. We have our caseload, and each caseload is treated by an individual basis, whether it is someone like the previous two profiles that you saw with many different kinds of problems and many different kinds of interventions, or if it is just someone that may need assistance getting medical help or may need assistance getting back into school.
We provide child protection training for members of the community. We include youth themselves in this training, so that they can work as peertopeer child protection agents.
We also work directly with the military and security forces by providing them with child protection methodologies before, during, and after conflict.
Any time that there is a movement of refugees, our field staff is there physically. They have a chance to look at the different refugees as they are coming in order to see if there is a family that looks a little different, or if there is a kid coming in by himself. That gives us immediate opportunity to start talking with that child, finding out what that child’s problems are, and start reintegrating that child back into the community the moment that he/she arrives in the refugee camps.
We have a skills training component. We built small schools in all of the camps. We currently have around 2,000 children involved in our skills training program. It focuses on two bands of individuals. The first is children who have not been in school for an extended period of time, and we try to use this project as a stepping stone to get them into formal education. These kids do not know how to read and write. They are scared going back to school, and this is a good bridge to get them into formal education.
The other band of children that we are looking at is young adults, 18 to 25-year-olds, who are too old to go to school or have already finished school. We try to continue with their professional development and their training, and they participate in our skills training program.
We try to push them on possible employment skills. We do mock interviews with them. We sit down and think about how they are going to find a job, and it is very difficult regionally because the economy is so weak in war-torn West Africa. Even if we are able to provide skills for these kids, it remains very difficult to find them jobs.
We include life skills training, such as AIDS education, reproductive health, and peace education. A lot of our students are child mothers, and we have a small day care center and also provide day care training for young mothers, especially former child combatants, so that they may possibly find that as future employment. We also offer a range of literacy classes.
I want to go through a few lessons learned that we have developed from this project and through working with this population.
First, as someone mentioned earlier, it is important to find their strength. A lot of these kids come in with very low selfesteem and are withdrawn. If you can find something they like to do, something that can make them feel confident, that is their little step. That is their foothold towards the road for reintegration. And although a lot of people do not talk about this too much, there are positive things that happen to children through child soldiering. They learn leadership skills. They learn social skills. They learn survival skills that can be used as one of the footholds to continue with their reintegration process back into their community.
Providing normalizing activities such as school, which they go to every day, is extremely important. It is also very important to work with the community. As we all know, funding is limited, and we may not be there forever. So by training and working with members of the community, you are ensuring that there is going to be someone there who will be able to continue working with these children even after the NGOs have gone.
A big lesson learned for us is labels. These children are very confused. They have missed a lot of their development of self during the conflict, and I find that they attach themselves to labels.
I had one boy who came up to me and said,“Hello. My name is Abu. I am a child soldier, and I am traumatized,” which are all words that he picked up along the way. I said,“Abu, what does that mean?” I think that a very important step in the healing process in the children that we work with is deconstructing that identity of a child soldier.
I said,“Yes, you were a child soldier, but you are also a great football player and you sing well and you are smart. Why would you pick this thing to identify yourself when you have all of these other things?” It is important to help them view themselves outside of a community, and rather to see themselves as normal children, or at least as normal as they can be in the refugee camp.
I think you also have to have a very good balance between broad community reintegration activities and very personalized protection support because the needs of these children are so different. But overall, personal contact and helping them to feel like they are a normal part of their community, I think, is also very powerful and is part of their healing process.
We set up centers in the camps where the youth can come whenever they want to. We try to set up safe spaces. They are monitored. Whenever they have a problem, it is someplace that they can go.
We also state very, very clear rules about what can happen and what cannot happen. Child soldiers especially have a difficult time processing stress, change, and authority, and by setting up those boundaries, you give them a better way to dealing with some of the rules and regulations of society.
I believe I have a little bit of time for some questions, if anyone would like any further clarification or any questions about our program.
Question: Do the youth, particularly the adolescents, express any sort of political interest? Do they see their role possibly with political overtones as maybe reviewing what they have done in the past, politically and economically, and what they might have to offer their country or their group of people in the future, politically?
Answer: Definitely. In West Africa, until you get married, you are not an adult. So a lot of these children are still seen as children, even though they formerly had to assume very adult roles, such as being heads of households or holding a gun in their hands.
We try to work with the community and the youth to help them understand that this is the future of Sierra Leone.This is the future of West Africa. This is the garden that you need to cultivate. The youth very much do have a political agenda, but they feel so silent and they feel so ignored to that many of them never impose it. I think a lot of them were trained not to talk about their political views during the crises.
Question: I noticed, and also the previous speaker mentioned, that agricultural skills are very important for world economies. I understand that you have a garden cultivation program. I am wondering if you do work with job skills regarding agricultural skills.
Answer: There are some other organizations that work more directly with agricultural skills. We use our community garden as kind of a healing process. Because it is a refugee camps, people are so reluctant to invest a lot of time in cultivating the land. But I think they are agricultural-based, and a lot of these kids have years more agricultural experience than I do.
Thank you. Now we have a short case study, to talk a little bit about girls associated with fighting forces in Sierra Leone.
Because of the time, I am going to focus particularly on one methodology that we developed to facilitate dialogue and the transition to go home. But we cannot talk about girls associated with fighting forces unless we give a little bit of background on the demobilization process, which we call DDR, for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. In Sierra Leone, this was carried out by the government, the United Nations, and NGOs. And while it was not meant this way, we found out quickly that the DDR process discriminated against girls.
The way to be formally demobilized, which enabled access to services later on, was to surrender a weapon. And while some of the girls were combatants, most of them were not carrying a weapon. They were being used in other ways.This demobilization process was changed later, so that commanders could present people in their unit, but you can imagine hardly any presented girls.
This oversight was interesting because there was a very important meeting in Cape Town, South Africa in 1997 organized by UNICEF. At that time, the definition of child soldiers definitely encompassed more than those with a gun. For example, it also included porters or girls used as rebel wives. All of these are now definitely part of the caseload in Sierra Leone. So I am not sure how this was overlooked.
Many girls who arrived at the demobilization center were part of a family; hence, there was a reluctance to separate the girls from their husbands. A lot of these young women had children as well. So, by and large, they were not interviewed separately.
At the same time, those few staff who did try to interview them separately found that the girls were very confused. There was no guarantee that if they wanted to leave their commander or soldier husband right away that there would be anything for them. They were very worried. They thought they could not go home, they were concerned about whether or not they would be accepted, and they did not know where their homes were or who would help them there. So even those who had been given a bit of a choice, by and large, did not avail of this. This creates a question for the future demobilization. We have got to do a lot better by the girls.
But while the demobilization was deemed quite successful with over 72,000 people demobilized, including close to 7,000 underage combatants, less than 8 percent were girls. At the same time, estimates of the number of girls that had been taken in by rebel forces equal that of boys. So we could have expected 50 percent. As you can see, there was a terrible gap.
We in the International Rescue Committee (IRC) were acutely aware of the discrepancy over the course of our years working in Sierra Leone. We reintegrated close to 2,000 boys and only a few handfuls of girls until 2001 when we decided to make a conscious effort to seek out and identify these girls in the communities.
Interestingly, in the course of work in villages, quite often boys who had not gone through the formal demobilization process but had just gone home directly, were brought to our attention. Some people wanted special ceremonies to mark the departure from military life to civilian life, and we took these children into our programs. But nobody brought girls forward.
When we started these active efforts to identify girls, it was not difficult. We talked to chiefs. We talked to women’s groups. We went to villages. People knew exactly where they were. Many of them were still with their bush husbands in different situations, some quite appalling, and they were terrified. There was a high level of violence, too, which the girls had accepted. They often had several children and had settled down.
Other girls had separated. Most of the time, their rebel husbands could not go home and instead had gone north abandoning their wives. Living alone together, these girls were very, very vulnerable, and they were prey for all the men. They ended up fighting for themselves with prostitution.
When we had access to them, again, it was difficult. They were very afraid to talk to us with their husband present. I interviewed several of them, and it was only one hour or more into a discussion about general ideas, when they would open up, start crying, and admit that they were longing for their families. They were dying to know where they were, but they were so afraid. They would say, “Please don’t tell my husband that I am even discussing this,” and then the next comment was “I don’t think I can go home with all the things that have happened. I have children now.” And, of course, they had had multiple sexual abuses over the last few years, and with the rejection and social stigma attached to rape, they were extremely ashamed and worried about family rejection. They often candidly said,“How am I going to have a livelihood? I have children. Who is going to feed my children?”
So this is when we came up with the idea of finding a transitional way to ease the girls’ return home. We thought of using a video camera to tape messages. We urged the girls to talk to the family they had not seen, and we would attempt to trace and find their families.
They did. Their husbands let them talk. And then we took the video messages to the villages. Most of the time, we found the families. We are still tracing only a couple of cases.
Unanimously, the response was,“We want our girl home. We really do.” The messages were extremely moving. The girls were often very shy, and they would say,“Look, I don’t know where you are now. I think about you, but I have two children,” and they would show the children and be embarrassed. Overwhelmingly, families say,“Well, look at your sister. She has three children. The situation has changed. We are not the same as when you left 4, 5, 6 years ago. We understand.”
You see, in the mind of the girls, they left when they were much younger. They had the world of a young child, and they could not fathom the change. They had in their minds that families stayed the same, but in fact, their families had moved on. They were also touched by the war. Horrible things had happened. They were all in it together, but the girls did not know that.
When we would show families the video messages, I sometimes wondered whether or not we were cheating. It was like magic for people that did not have access to this technology. In several cases, even the husbands were so touched by the images of the family asking for the young women to return home that they let them go quite easily. This did not happen in all cases, but it occurred more frequently than we had expected.
Of course, the crucial part is what happens later. We found that it is even more important to ensure skills training and means of livelihood for young women than for boys. We can see that in the case of girls, the degree of acceptance and the prospects for successful reintegration is in direct relation with the possibility of providing for one’s self and one’s children.
Question: Does it happen often that commanders let their wives go back to their homes and families?
Answer: Yes. It takes a little preparation. It takes negotiation. It takes dialogue. Initially, the girls do not even want to mention that to their husbands. They are terrified, and definitely, they don’t want to, but some do. Quite a number of them, actually. It is very interesting because in this project, we do not say that the girls are just going home to stay. We help them to make an initial visit, and then they decide what to do. At the beginning, only about 20 percent decided to stay home, but then that number increased. In other words, they went back to their husbands for a month or six months, and then they decided to make the move. We are up to 35 percent now, and that could increase. So far,we have not had any problems for those husbands, but again, there may be some cases where the girl would like to stay, and it needs more work.
Question: I want to emphasize that in the aftermath of the war in Sierra Leone, from the very beginning, as girls were left out, and it was girls and women themselves who were speaking out against that problem. We learned that dozens and dozens of adolescents did their own research about the issues in their own community, and they went knocking on the doors of UNICEF and other agencies for help in the formal demobilization program, even if they did not make it in, and people did respond ultimately.
But I want to emphasize that they were there asking, and they had a slow response. I really appreciate that your questions how this could have happened, when so many years before, it was said in these international conferences that this should not occur.
I want to show you this report called Precious Resources. It is on our website, www.womenscommission.org. It documents in detail the problems and accomplishments of the DDR, and this DDR in Sierra Leone is an important lesson learned for others moving forward.
Also, what the findings of the young people emphasized is one of the major problems still for girls - you emphasized the need for livelihood - is that the problem of prostitution and sexual exploitation in general is widespread in Sierra Leone. Even if the girls are with their families, they have to participate in prostitution. So emphasizing again, thank you for raising this, and important lessons learned. Let’s keep raising this lesson for the next ones.
Answer: I think these last three transitions have given me a lot of hope, and I want to thank the presenters for this afternoon, really for their wonderful presentations.
On the issue of commercial sex, I always ask the question: suppose we did not have buyers or people who were interested in buying the sex, would we have people who would sell? The commodity is there. The demand is also there. So we must have the education campaign for the people who are buying this commodity. I believe that if people were not buying this commodity, there would be nothing to sell. People would be engaged in other gainful activities rather than selling sex.
The other thing I would like to talk about is the girls’ reaction. It is normally unpredictable. In my country, for example, we had to have a dialogue with the media. Whenever a girl wanted to come out, they would put her picture on the front page and say she was a rebel leader’s wife, and they would not even cover her face. This made her very, very vulnerable, to the point that she would not be able to go back to her village. Wherever she went, people would identify her and say that is the lady who had been in the papers.
We had to negotiate with the media about this. Now more and more girls will be able to come out voluntarily and talk about their problem. I think governments and countries increasingly need psychosocial programs, and I think capacities of countries should be built, even those that are not at war, because of HIV/AIDS. People are so traumatized that there is need for psychosocial programs.
Question: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what sorts of mechanisms you think should be put in place for future demobilizations to be sure that they are fully inclusive of girls. Burundi and Angola, for example, are currently demobilizing their child soldiers, and Sri Lanka is designing their program.
Answer: I think that would be quite a large topic to tackle. For starters, I should be recognized that the demobilization process has to recognize that any child associated with the fighting forces — in whatever capacity — should be part of a demobilization and part of the services and the reintegration later on. That was not done in Sierra Leone.
The form is should take in the case of girls who have husbands and children is very delicate, and the timing has to be thought through carefully. We need to consider how to separate girls and boys, and how to provide a separate facility for each group for a long enough period of time.
In addition, we definitely need to inform the girls of their right. That was not even done. Somebody has to talk to them. They need a pamphlet, and later on, using the media, I think there should be many more radio programs to inform girls who had association with armed forces of where to go for help, of their rights, and of what can be done.
Thank you very much.
The Children in the Crossfire Conference featured several short documentary films on child soldiers. In addition, an exhibit hall at the conference displayed photographs, drawings and other representations of children around the world whose lives have been affected by armed conflict.
Co-produced by RCN Entertainment and the UN Works Program and narrated by Michael Douglas, this documentary traces the lives of several former child soldiers in Sierra Leone. The film is one in a ten-part family television series that portrays the daily struggles and aspirations of children around the world.
For more information, please visit:
“CHILDREN ON THE FRONTLINE”
Produced by the International Labor Organization (ILO), this short film provides a global overview of the use of children as soldiers, the types of hazards associated with this form of labor, and the ongoing efforts by the international community to prevent the practice.
For more information, please contact the ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor at 41-22-799-8181 or email@example.com.
“YOUTH PARALLEL PROGRAM”
Prior to the Children in the Crossfire Conference, a group of U.S. and international youth delegates attended a two-day preparatory meeting (May 5-6, 2003) during which they planned for and attended preliminary events at local high schools, toured Washington, D.C. and prepared for the main conference. The former child soldiers and local youth delegates also participated in a follow-up meeting on May 9, 2003 after the main conference. A team of facilitators experienced in developing youth leadership programs, as well as programs for child soldiers and refugees, was assembled to assist with programming and implementing these events.
This film documents the two-day preparatory meeting prior to the conference, during which youth delegates met each other, visited local schools, and toured the Washington, D.C. area. The film was produced by the U.S. Department of Labor.
For more information, please send a written request to: firstname.lastname@example.org
“UGANDAN CHILDREN OF CONFLICT”
Exhibit of Drawings and Murals (include Uganda Drawing picture)
The powerful collection of murals and drawings in the “Ugandan Children of Conflict” exhibit include representations of the child soldier experience, as conveyed visually by former child soldiers in two rehabilitation centers in northern Uganda. During two trips to Uganda, co-founders of the Ugandan Children of Conflict Education Fund, Mary Westring and David Bersch, encouraged children in the centers – sponsored by World Vision and GUSCO (Gulu Support Our Children Organization) – to use images as part of their healing process. In each successive trip, groups of roughly 50 children related the details of their experiences through drawings, including their peaceful lives in the village, their moment of capture, their experiences in the bush, and their imagined futures. On the second trip, the children in the centers produced murals of their shared experiences. The children were encouraged to think of their experience as a timeline, as a story that reads from left to right, the peaceful past and hoped-for peaceful future bracketing the horrifying reality of their time in captivity. They painted the murals with the assurance of those who know their stories well and know the importance of telling it. But most notably, they displayed a childish joy in their joint effort – for they are, after all, children.
For more information, please contact Mary Westring at email@example.com.
Photo and Text-Panel Exhibit [include photograph from the ILO]
Produced by the International Labor Organization, the “Wounded Childhood” exhibit provides information about the ILO response to children in armed conflict, which is considered to be a worst form of child labor under ILO Convention No. 182. Through various interventions around the world, the ILO attempts to address the root causes of child participation in armed conflict; provide sustainable alternatives for children who have been involved in armed conflict; give economic support to their families and communities; and advocate implementation of international legal instruments.
For more information, please contact the ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor at 41-22-799-8181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“PLAYING FOR KEEPS: CHILDREN & WAR IN AFRICA”
Photo Documentary funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development Photographs by Martin Lueders [include photograph from series]
The pictures and stories included in “Playing for Keeps” represent the difference that appropriate interventions can make in the lives of children who have been exposed to the horrors of modern-day warfare in four African countries:Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone. The documentary was commissioned by USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, which funds child-based interventions in war-affected countries that aim to document, trace, and reunify children with their families; support psychosocial adjustment of children in distress; facilitate reintegration of children into communities; and support formal and informal educational opportunities.
For more information, please contact USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund at 202-789-1500, or visit http://www.usaid.gov/pop_health/dcofwvf/index.html.
MAY 7-8, 2003 • GRAND HYATT
WEDNESDAY, May 7th 2003 - 11:30-1:00
REGISTRATION - 1:00-1:10
Introductory Remarks: Cameron Findlay, Deputy Secretary of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor
ELAINE L. CHAO, Secretary of Labor - 1:10-1:30
ANDREW NATSIOS, USAID Administrator - 1:30-1:50
OLARA A.OTUNNU, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict - 1:50-2:10
YOUTH PANEL - 2:10-3:10
Rountable discussion with several former child soldiers and moderated by Jane Lowicki, Senior Coordinator for the Children and Adolescents Project at the Women’s Commission on Refugee Women and Children
BREAK - 3:10-3:50
JUAN SOMAVIA, Director-General, International Labor Organization - 3:50-4:10
DOCUMENTARY FILM: UN Works “What’s Going On” - 4:10-4:50
“Child Soldiers” in Sierra Leone, with introduction by Carmel Mulvany, UN Works and Ashley Hoppin, RCN Entertainment
CLOSING REMARKS - 4:50-5:00
Cameron Findlay, Deputy Secretary of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor
THURSDAY, May 8th 2003 - 8:15-9:00
OPENING REMARKS - 9:00-9:05
Arnold L. Levine, Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor
FILM: “Children on the Frontline” - 9:05-9:15
Prepared by the International Labor Organization
PREVENTION WORKSHOP: - 9:15-10:25
MODERATOR, Jo Becker, International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
Mike Wessells, Christian Children’s Fund
Guenet Guebre-Christos, UNHCR Representative to the US
Nonoy Fajardo, UNICEF/Philippines
Shirley Gbujama, Minister of Social Welfare, Govt of Sierra Leone
COFFEE BREAK - 10:25-10:40
CHILDREN IN COMBAT AND DEMOBILIZATION WORKSHOP: - 10:40-11:30
MODERATOR, Manuel Fontaine, Senior Advisor on Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF
Kathy Vandergrift,World Vision/Canada
Lourdes Balanon, Undersecretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Government of the Philippines
Adrien Tuyuga, JAMAA/Burundi
LONG-TERM DATA COLLECTION METHODOLOGY - 11:30-12:05
Christophe Gironde and Cheaka Toure, International Labor Organization
CLEAR ROOM/LUNCH SET-UP - 12:05-1:00
LUNCHEON HOSTED BY WORLD VISION - 1:00-2:30
Bruce Wilkinson, Vice President of International Programs,World Vision (1:30-1:40)
Steven Law, Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of Labor (1:40-1:45)
Ambassador Richard S.Williamson (1:45-2:00)
U.S. Alternate Representative to the UN for Special Political Affairs
REINTEGRATION WORKSHOP: - 2:30-4:45
MODERATOR, Lloyd Feinberg, Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, USAID
Marie de la Soudiere, International Rescue Committee
Virginia Brown, International Organization for Migration/Colombia
Dr. Harendra de Silva, Child Protection Agency, Government of Sri Lanka
15 MINUTE COFFEE BREAK
Charles Watmon,World Vision (Uganda Case Study)
Mattito Watson, Save the Children/US (Guinea Case Study)
Marie de la Soudiere, International Rescue Committee (Sierra Leone Case Study)
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE/CONCLUDING REMARKS - 4:45-5:00
Arnold L. Levine, Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs,
(Luncheon Keynote Address) U.S. Alternate Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs
Ambassador Rich Williamson was sworn in as United States Alternate Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs in January 2002.
Prior to assuming this position,Ambassador Williamson was a member of the Chicago-based international law firm of Mayer, Brown and Platt.
Ambassador Williamson’s previous government experience includes serving as a member of President Ronald Reagan’s senior White House staff in the position of Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs; U.S.Ambassador to the United Nations offices in Vienna, Austria; Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations and as a member of the President’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control.
Ambassador Williamson is the author of four books, editor of three books and the author of over 100 articles on a wide range of public policy issues.
Ambassador Williamson received his B.A. degree from Princeton University and his J.D. degree from the University of Virginia. He and his wife Jane have three children.
ANDREW S. NATSIOS
Andrew S. Natsios was sworn in on May 1, 2001, as administrator of the U.S.Agency for International Development (USAID). President Bush has also appointed him Special Coordinator for International Disaster Assistance and Special Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan.
Natsios has served previously at USAID, first as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 1989 to 1991 and then as assistant administrator for the Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance (now the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance) from 1991 to January 1993. Before assuming his new position, Natsios was chairman and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority from April 2000 to March 2001, and had responsibility for managing the Big Dig, the largest public works project in U.S. history. Before that, he was secretary for administration and finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from March 1999 to April 2000. From 1993 to 1998, Natsios was vice president of World Vision U.S. From 1987 to 1989, he was executive director of the Northeast Public Power Association in Milford, Massachusetts.
Natsios served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1975 to 1987 and was named legislator of the year by the Massachusetts Municipal Association (1978), the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (1986), and Citizens for Limited Taxation (1986). He also was chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee for seven years.
Natsios is a graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where he received a master’s degree in public administration.
Natsios is the author of numerous articles on foreign policy and humanitarian emergencies, as well as the author of two books: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1997), and The Great North Korean Famine (U.S. Institute of Peace, 2001).
After serving 23 years in the U.S.Army Reserves, Natsios retired in 1995 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is a veteran of the Gulf War.
A native of Holliston, Massachusetts, Natsios and his wife, Elizabeth, have three children, Emily,Alexander, and Philip.
Director-General, International Labor Organization
Juan Somavia was elected to serve as the ninth Director-General of the ILO by the Governing Body on 23 March 1998. His five-year term of office began on 4 March 1999, when he became the first representative from the Southern hemisphere to head the organization. Mr. Somavia was re-elected for a second term as Director-General in March 2003. Previous positions include: Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations in New York; President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council; Representative of Chile on the United Nations Security Council, including President of the Security Council in April 1996 and October 1997; Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen; and Chairman of the Social Committee of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Mr. Somavia began his career as an academic. From 1967-68, he was lecturer on economic and social issues for GATT’s trade policy courses in Geneva. In 1971, he was appointed Professor of International Economic and Social Affairs in the Department of Political Sciences at the Catholic University of Chile, where he highlighted the ILO and its tripartite structure as a case study in international cooperation. Between 1976 and 1990, he was Founder, Executive Director and President of the Latin American Institute of Transnational Studies (ILET), during which time he undertook a number of studies on trade union and social movements in Mexico City and Santiago.
He has also been involved in numerous business, financial and civil society organizations throughout the course of his career.
Mr. Somavia is married to Adriana Santa Cruz and they have two children.
UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
Olara A. Otunnu was appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict in August 1997. In his post, Mr. Otunnu is mandated to serve as a liaison among UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs to develop a focused approach to meeting the needs of children affected by violent conflict.
Mr. Otunnu was born in northern Uganda in 1950. He attended Makerere University in Kampala, Oxford University, and Harvard Law School (where he was a Fulbright Scholar). Following his education, Mr. Otunnu practiced law briefly in New York, and then returned to Uganda where he served as government representative, including a two-year post as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and as Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
From 1990 to the beginning of his mandate as Special Representative, Mr. Otunnu was President of the International Peace Academy. In addition, Mr. Otunnu has participated in numerous task forces and commissions focusing on international peace, as well as civic initiatives and organizations including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Aspen Institute.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 7, 2003
YOUTH PANEL with Secretary of Labor, Elaine L, Chao
JARE LOWICKI, Moderator, Senior Coordinator for the Children and Adolescents Project,Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children
Jane Lowicki is the Senior Coordinator for the Children and Adolescents Project at the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children in New York, where for more than four years she has worked to build an international campaign to increase services and protection to adolescents affected by armed conflict and persecution. She is the author of Untapped Potential:Adolescents Affected by Armed Conflict,A review of programs and policies, which was released by the Women’s Commission in January 2000. She is currently working on a series of action-oriented field studies with and for adolescents in four conflict sites. Each of these efforts is followed by intensive advocacy work with the young people involved to improve services and protection for adolescents, especially regarding education and the situation of girls.
Ms. Lowicki has worked on behalf of and with people fleeing persecution since 1991 as the Public Information Officer and interim Washington Representative for the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program and through her work with the World Council of Churches. She is the author of numerous other articles and reports on immigration and refugee issues, as well as women’s and children’s rights, and has investigated and reported on refugee situations in over ten countries. Ms. Lowicki is a graduate of Cornell University in Government, International Relations and Women’s Studies and studied Politics, History and Law at the University of Edinburgh, where she received an Honors Merit in Politics.
BERTA, Panelist,Youth Delegate, El Salvador
Berta grew up in the coffee growing area in the Department of Usulutan where she came into contact with rebel forces during the 1980s. Berta and her family provided food for the guerrillas, and she eventually joined the movement in 1990. Berta served in the Special Forces assigned to protect the base and the commanders of the unit. In the field, her primary role was that of a radio operator. In 1991, she received a spinal injury, and was rescued by the International Red Cross. Berta was forced to use a wheelchair for two years. In 1993, Berta learned to walk again with crutches. She is currently studying law at the national university.
EMILIA, Panelist,Youth Delegate, Sierra Leone
Emilia was captured by a rebel group when she was 9 years old, and spent the next five years performing various tasks for her military commanders, including scavenging for food, laying ambushes, and learning to use firearms. She was forced to become the wife of one of her commanders but escaped following his death in battle.After escaping, she found that she had become pregnant with his child. At 14 years old, Emilia became the primary caregiver for both her newborn son and her younger brother. She received assistance from a missionary group, and has since returned to school. She is currently at the senior secondary level and also works as a journalist for the Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio’s Golden Kids Network.
STEVEN, (Panelist),Youth Delegate, Sierra Leone
Steven was captured by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and recruited as a fighter in the Small Boys Unit when he was 9 years old. He managed to escape from the RUF, but later joined the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and served as a soldier. Steven was demobilized following the signing of the 1999 Lomé peace agreement and found support at an Interim Care Center for separated children on the outskirts of Freetown. He then joined the Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio’s Golden Kids Network as a journalist. The Golden Kids Network is a children’s news program that is reported and produced by kids. Steven receives educational and support services through the organization. He was featured in the UN Works “What’s Going On?” film series.
Thursday, MAY 8, 2003
JO BECKER, Moderator, International Steering Committee Member, International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
Jo Becker is the Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, an independent organization that conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world. Ms. Becker represents Human Rights Watch before the press, government officials, and the general public, and works with other non-governmental and international organizations to stop abuses against children, including the use of children as soldiers, hazardous child labor, and ill treatment during detention.
Ms. Becker was the founding chairperson of the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and serves on the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. She has conducted field investigations to document child recruitment in Burma and in Northern Uganda and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding the international treaty banning the forced recruitment of children or their use in combat.
She recently co-authored "Stolen Children: Child Abduction and Recruitment in Northern Uganda," a report published by Human Rights Watch in March of this year. Her writing on child soldiers has appeared in the Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, and Christian Science Monitor.
NONOY FAJARDO, Panelist, Project Officer, UNICEF/Philippines
Mr. Fajardo is currently a project officer of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the Philippines. He manages the National Project for Rescue, Recovery and Reintegration of Children in Need of Special Protection under the Child Protection Program. His work involves the development of programs for the protection of children at risk and the psychological healing and social reintegration of children who have experienced especially difficult situations. He also acts as the focal officer managing all UNICEF assistance in three priority areas in Mindanao in Southern Philippines. He has held the post since 1999.
From 1991 to 1998, he served as senior project assistant for the national Project on Children in Situations of Armed Conflict. The Project initiated policies, programs and approaches in dealing with displacement of families and psychosocial trauma caused by armed conflicts.The Project was also responsible for bridging the gap and establishing joint co-operation among government and non-government organizations providing services for children in situations of armed conflicts.
Prior to joining UNICEF, Mr. Fajardo was a Peace Program Officer of the Office of the Peace Commissioner under the Office of the President of the Republic of the Philippines from 1989 to 1991. He prepared policy studies on peace and human rights issues for the government peace commissioners. Mr. Fajardo is 40 years old and a national of the Philippines.
SHIRLEY GBUJAMA, Panelist, Minister of Social Welfare, Government of Sierra Leone
GUENET GUEBRE-CHRISTOS, Panelist, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Representative
Ms. Guenet Guebre-Christos is the head of the Regional Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the United States and the Caribbean. Ms. Guebre-Christos served as UNHCR's Representative in Rwanda from 1998 to September 2000 based in Kigali, where she oversaw the return and reintegration of Rwandan refugees and addressed the needs of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi in Rwanda.
MICHAEL WESSELLS, Panelist, Christian Children’s Fund
Michael Wessells, PhD. is Professor of Psychology at Randolph-Macon College and Psychosocial Advisor for Christian Children’s Fund. He has served as President of the Division of Peace Psychology of the American Psychological Association and of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. His research on children and armed conflict examines child soldiers, psychosocial assistance in emergencies, and post-conflict reconstruction for peace. He regularly advises U. N. agencies, donors, and governments on the situation of children in armed conflict and issues regarding child protection and well-being. He has extensive experience in post-conflict reconstruction in countries such as Afghanistan and East Timor. In countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Kosova, and Afghanistan, he helps to develop community-based, culturally grounded programs that assist children, families, and communities affected by armed conflict.
MANUEL FONTAINE, Moderator, Senior Advisor on Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF
LOURDES BALANON, Panelist, Undersecretary, Ministry of Social Welfare and Development Government of the Philippines
In her current position, Undersecretary Balanon is actively involved in the rehabilitation and reintegration of child combatants into mainstream Philippine society and was instrumental in conceptualizing the "handover program," whereby Philippine armed forces units turn over to the Ministry of Social Welfare and Development captured and wounded child soldiers.
ADRIEN TUYAGA, Panelist, JAMAA/Burundi
Mr.Tuyaga is a representative of JAMAA (meaning “Friends” in Swahili) “Gardons Contact” (Let’s Keep in Touch), an organization created to target the most at risk youth who have been involved in ethnic violence in the capital of Burundi, Bujumbura, and surrounding communities. JAMAA’s action is focused on demobilization of the youth and their social and economic resettlement.
Kathy Vandergrift, Panelist, Senior Analyst,World Vision/Canada
Kathy Vandergrift, a senior policy analyst with World Vision, is also Co-chair of the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, an international NGO coalition that reports on the situation of children in specific countries. Kathy represents World Vision on the Steering Committee of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, and she chairs the NGO Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict in Canada.
PRESENTATION ON DATA COLLECTION METHODOLOGY
CHRISTOPHE GIRONDE AND TOURE CHEAKA, International Labor Organization
LLOYD FEINBERG, Moderator, Director, Displaced Children and Orphan’s Fund, USAID
Lloyd Feinberg is the director of USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphan’s Fund (DCOF) and the Leahy War Victim’s Fund (LWVF). The former includes projects to assist children affected by armed conflict, including child soldiers. His program assessment visits have taken him to virtually every mine-affected area of the world, from Angola to Mozambique, from El Salvador to Sri Lanka. He monitors and reports on the Funds’ activities within the agency, to the public and to Congress. Both the LWVF and the DCOF primarily work through non-governmental organizations and pre-existing local services to provide direct assistance and build local response capacity.
VIRGINIA BROWN, Panelist, Program Officer, International Organization for Migration (IOM)/Colombia
Virginia Brown has worked for IOM since May 2001. She initially worked as a consultant for the designing of a monitoring system for the Internally Displaced Persons Program and for the Child Soldiers Program. Since July 2002, Ms. Brown has been the Program Officer for the Strengthening Peace Program and for the Support Program for Ex-combatant Children. She also worked for USAID Managua as the Project Manager for the Public Financial Management Reform.
Ms. Brown has extensive work experience within the Colombian government at the local and national level, including: Chief of Staff for the Ministry of Finance; Presidential delegate for the Magdalena Medio Region and Financial and Administrative Director for the Presidential Program, National Rehabilitation Plan; General Director of the National Education Fund for the Ministry of Education; and Principal Aide for the Vice President of the Senate.
DR. HARENDRA DE, Silva Panelist, Chairman, National Child Protection Authority, Government of Sri Lanka
Dr. de Silva is Chairman of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), an agency established by the Government of Sri Lanka to advise the government on national policy for the prevention of child abuse, and the protection and treatment of children who are victims of abuse. NCPA activities under Dr. de Silva's leadership have helped to increase awareness of child abuse and the need to protect children from exploitative child labor and trafficking. As a professor of pediatrics, Dr. de Silva has researched the effects of conscription on children in armed conflict and has treated children who have suffered trauma as a result of war. Dr. de Silva is Head of the Department of Pediatrics with the Faculty of Medicine.
MARIE DE LA SOUDIERE, Panelist, Director, Children’s Unit, International Rescue Committee
Marie de la Soudiere is the director of the Children Affected by Armed Conflict unit of the International Rescue Committee in New York. As the first director of the Children’s unit at IRC, she has developed and is overseeing programs in over 20 countries, and has initiated several research projects on psychosocial adjustment of children and adolescents, including former child combatants, in conflict and post conflict countries.
For the last 20 years, she has developed psychosocial policies and programs for women and children in more than a dozen troubled countries. She has worked, inter alia, on the situation of children in bonded labor in Pakistan, street children in the Sudan and violated women in Bosnia, and has helped UNICEF and UNHCR develop programs and policies for separated children in Thailand, the Sudan, Hong Kong, the former Yugoslavia, and the countries of the Great Lakes region in Central Africa. Before joining the IRC in November 1997, she was UNICEF's senior Regional Advisor for unaccompanied children in the Great Lakes region.
She holds an MSW from Stony Brook University and received an honorary PHD in Social Science from Yale University.
CASE STUDY PRESENTATIONS
MARIE DE LA SOUDIERE, Director, Children’s Unit, International Rescue Committee
See biographical information above.
CHARLES WATMON, Director, Center for Children of War,World Vision/Gulu, Uganda
World Vision has served over 5,800 former child soldiers at this center through the provision of medical treatment, counseling, and assistance as they reintegrate with their families and communities. The organization has been active assisting war-affected populations in northern Uganda for over 15 years.
MATTITO WATSON, Director, Child Soldiers Program, Save the Children-US/Guinea
Mattito Watson currently directs Save the Children’s child soldier program in the Republic of Guinea, where he has been posted for two years. While the project initially focused exclusively on the reintegration of former Sierra Leonean and Liberian child combatants residing in the refugee camps in Guinea, it has expanded its target population to include other youth at risk, including child mothers, commercial sex workers, handicapped and disfigured youth and youth who have experienced traumatic events. Mr.Watson has more than 12 years experience in development and humanitarian work in Africa. His previous work in Africa focused on education,AIDS prevention and youth development, and he has worked in Senegal, the Republic of Guinea, Cameroon, Eritrea and Zimbabwe. Mr.Watson holds a masters degree in both Public Health and African Studies.
AFGHANISTAN Ibrahim Sesay, UNICEF
Fabrice, international youth delegate
Radjabu, international youth delegate
Emmanuel Buramatari, Director of Youth Programs, Search for Common Ground
Désirée Gatoto, Minister for International Reform, Human Rights and Parliamentary Relations and Director for the National Structural Management of the Demobilization, Reintegration and Prevention of Child Soldiers, Government of Burundi.
Jean-Claude Ndayishimiye, Burundian League for Youth and Childhood
Adrien Tuyaga, JAMAA “Gardons Contact” (Let’s Keep in Touch)
Eider, International youth delegate
Virginia Brown, Program Officer, International Organization for Migration
Maria Fernanda Calle Londono, Don Bosco Training Center
Father Jaime Gonzales Quintero, Don Bosco Training Center
Beatriz Linares Cantillo, Delegated Defender for the Rights of the Childhood,Youth and Women, Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, Government of Colombia
Catalina Velasco Campuzano, Deputy Director of Direct Interventions, Family Welfare Institute, Government of Colombia
Berta, international youth delegate
Jose Mejia Trabanino, Global Issues Coordinator and Human Rights Expert, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of El Salvador
Lourdes Balanon, Undersecretary, Ministry of Social Welfare and Development, Government of the Philippines
Leon Dominador F.M. Fajardo, National Project for Rescue, Recovery and Reintegration of Children in Need of Special Protection, UNICEF
Ester Versoza, Ministry of Social Welfare and Development, Government of the Philippines
Steven, international youth delegate
Emilia, international youth delegate
Francis Fortune, Director, Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio
Ken Ganna Conteh, Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio
Shirley Gbujama, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Government of Sierra Leone
Ambrose James, Community Peace Building Unit, Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio
Mohan, international youth delegate
Dr. Harendra de Silva, Chairman of the National Child Protection Authority, Government of Sri Lanka
Grace, international youth delegate
Paul, international youth delegate
Zoe Bakoko-Bakoru, Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Welfare, Government of Uganda
Edward Khiddu Makubuya, Minister of Education and Sports, Government of Uganda
Justine Lukala, parent/guardian
Doreen Lanyero, parent/guardian
Ralph Ochan, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Welfare, Government of Uganda
Mark Ovola, Program Manager, Save the Children/Denmark
Charles Watmon, Director, Gulu Center for Children of War,World Vision
U.S.YOUTH DELEGATES Representing John F. Kennedy High School
Academy for Educational Development
AFL-CIO Solidarity Center
Africa Center for Strategic Studies
American Federation of School Administrators
American Federation of Teachers
American Institutes for Research
Amnesty International USA
Association of the U.S.Army
Aurora Associates International
Burundian League for Youth and Childhood
Burundi Youth Council
Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University
Carter Children Initiative
Catholic Relief Services
Center Don Bosco
Center for Defense Information
Center for Emerging Threats & Opportunities
Christian Children’s Fund
Church World Service
Center for Multicultural Human Services
Commission for Labor Cooperation
Computer Frontiers, Inc.
Creative Associates International, Inc.
Defensoría del Pueblo
Delegation of the European Commission
Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade/Canada
Embassy of Colombia
Embassy of El Salvador
Embassy of Japan
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen
Embassy of Sweden
Ethiopian Community Development Council
FAFO Applied International Studies
Family Health International
Foundry United Methodist Church
Government of Burundi
Government of Canada
Government of Colombia
Government of El Salvador
Government of Italy
Government of Norway
Government of the Philippines
Government of Sierra Leone
Government of Sri Lanka
Government of Uganda
Human Rights Watch
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Institute on Religion and Public Policy
International Children’s Dream Foundation
International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
International Committee of the Red Cross
International Initiative to End Child Labor
International Labor Organization
International Labor Rights Fund
International Organization for Migration
International Program on Refugee Trauma, Columbia University
International Rescue Committee
JAMAA Gardons Contact
John F. Kennedy High School
Lutheran World Relief
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Italy
Montgomery County Public Schools, ESOL Program
National Peace Corps Association
National Research Council
Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General
for Children and Armed
Conflict, United Nations
Research Triangle Institute
Salvation Army World Service Office
Save the Children/Denmark
Save the Children/US
Search for Common Ground
Social Science Research Council
The Futures Group International
The Justice Project
The Protection Project, Johns Hopkins University-SAIS
U.S.Agency for International Development (USAID)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Department of Labor
U.S. Department of Commerce
U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of State
U.S. House of Representatives, International Relations Committee
U.S. Office of Management and Budget
U.S. Senate, Office of Senator Mike DeWine
U.S. Senate, Republican Policy Committee
Ugandan Children of Conflict Education Fund
University of Iowa, Center for Human Rights
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Universal Standard College
University of San Francisco
Washington Office on Latin America
Watchlist on Children an Armed Conflict
Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children
World Veteran’s Federation
World Vision, Inc.
Worldwide Strategies, Inc
Youth Advocate Program International
Youth Empowerment Alliance
WASHINGTON – U.S. and foreign officials gathered here today for a two-day conference at the invitation of Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao to take action to eliminate the use of child soldiers and to rehabilitate those caught in such forced recruitment. Chao announced a $13 million initiative to support programs to counter the problem and to help former child soldiers rebuild their lives.
“This goal of this conference is to bring international attention to the atrocity of child soldiers in the world today. The forced recruitment and use of children as combatants is one of the worst forms of child labor. It is a moral outrage and must be stopped. All nations have got to come together to put an end to this evil. The profoundly sad truth is we can’t give these child soldiers back their childhoods but we can and we must help rebuild their lives,” said Chao in her remarks opening the conference.
In 1999, the U.S. was one of the first countries to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182, which declared the compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict as one of the worst forms of child labor. The International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers’ conservative estimate places over 300,000 children under the age of 18 fighting as soldiers in more than 30 countries for government forces or armed groups. Some of these child soldiers are as young as seven, and many are between the ages of 10 and 15. The majority are between 15 and 18.
Some 500 representatives from government, nongovernmental organizations, media and research institutions are attending the conference. The conference will examine strategies to solve the problem – from prevention to disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation at the community level. This holistic approach is featured in the $13 million Labor Department global initiative, which has three parts: a $7 million global project through the ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC), a $3 million project focusing on education needs of former child soldiers in Northern Uganda; and a $3 million project focusing on education needs of former child soldiers in Afghanistan [to be implemented by UNICEF].
World Vision will host a luncheon during the second day of the conference that will include a Keynote Address by John D. Negroponte, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Nine former child soldiers also will participate in the proceedings. They will offer first-hand knowledge and unique insight to help participants develop practical solutions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION,
Bureau of International Labor Affairs
U.S. Department of Labor
Phone: (202) 693-4843