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Reintegration and Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers: A Crucial Step to End Cycles of Violence
By admin July 27, 2016

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The recruitment of children into armed forces is becoming increasingly pervasive, prevailing in three-fourths of the conflicts in the world and totaling at approximately 300,000 children with half a million children not currently in combat, but within ranks. The rise in child soldiers can be attributed to their trusting, vulnerable and easily initiated nature as well as the creation of new, lighter armament technology. As defined by UNICEF, a child soldier is “any child – boy or girl-  under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force for armed group in any capacity”. However, nearly 80 percent of conflicts involving child soldiers include children under the age of fifteen. Thus, the need to psychologically and socially rehabilitate child soldiers extricated from conflict is essential to ensuring that cycles of violence are not politically or socially perpetuated.

Reintegration of child soldiers includes the negotiation of the release of children combatants, the physical separation from armed forced, family tracing, family reunification and community reunification. Along with the logistical challenges in relocating lost children, reconciling child soldiers with their communities especially those that have committed atrocities in their hometown poses another hurdle. Systematically, formed child soldiers are treated as security threats rather than victims and are often administratively detained or prosecuted for their alleged contributions to a violent extremist group. For instance, children in Somalia, after being captured and placed in dentition centers, would be sentenced to death. Moreover, funding for reintegration programs often falls between short-term emergency and long-term development assistance.

A gender divide in reintegration exists as well. While girls may be recruited as child combat soldiers, much of stigma surrounding girls previously in warzones revolve around the suspicion that they have been raped. Female abductees were forced into marriage or sexual slavery and also faced high levels of gender-based violence. Upon return to families, girls were largely ostracized and distrusted by their community and families, leading to fear in being revealed and hesitance to seek help.

Effective reintegration needs to be a priority. Socially, there needs to be a shift from treating and stigmatizing former child soldiers as victims in need of protection and psycho-social treatment rather than as criminals. A community-based approach that focuses on the strength and resilience of children should be taken. Legally, while accountability is important, children should be given liberty following their separation from a violent group. Those who suffered from conflict should be able to seek justice for violations in judicial and non-judicial processes. Children who have committed violations themselves should exercise truth-telling, traditional ceremonies, and restorative justice measures.

Economically, education and youth employment are important in preventing children from being recruited, abused and left on the streets. Programs should also address gender-specific issues to prevent future abduction, trafficking, and sexual violence. Such programs would include comprehensive rehabilitation of female victims as well as meeting with community leaders and parents to eliminate discrimination and change attitudes. Implementing a combination of communal education, robust policy and rehabilitation strategy will lead to a sustainable reintegration program that has the potential to end cycles of violence.

For more information:

Somalia: UN envoy calls for better protection of children affected by armed conflict

Office of the Special Representative and Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict: Release and Reintegration

Life after death: Helping former child soldiers become whole again

USAID: Helping Child Soldiers Reintegrate

Council on Foreign Relations: Child Soldiers around the World

Child soldiers battle traumas in Congo rehab

New strategy needed for rehabilitating IS child soldiers


Thanks for sharing !


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