CHILD SOLDIERS IN THE REPUBLIC OF CONGO
"War Child" has a history of working with children formerly associated with fighting forces (CFAFF) in the region of Equateur in the North of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At the end of 2004, as part of a UNICEF-funded program of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR), our local NGO partners were active in removing children from the military transport aircraft on their way to the frontline in the East.
Through our continued work with these children, we have been able to identify significant challenges in properly reintegrating them with their families and communities.
These children return from the war battle-scarred and unwelcome. They do not bring the money back that they are expected to bring (they haven’t been paid). They are viewed as dangerous, as an economic burden and live – literally – on the margins of their communities. Many people in their communities believe they are the responsibility of international organisations and blame them directly for bringing insecurity and crime. These children are not alone: there are thousands of them. They share their experiences with each other – reinforcing the perception of them as a growing threat while marginalizing them further. Because of the remoteness and inaccessibility of these communities, and because the actual marginalization of the children themselves, they are often invisible to the humanitarian agencies and so are overlooked.
WHAT WAR CHILD IS DOING ABOUT IT
In 2005 we co-funded with UNICEF a DDR program in north Equateur in line with the national program, which saw over 500 children demobilised and reunited with their families in the first 6 months. The research we undertook end of 2005 looked at what was needed beyond reunification to ensure that they are successfully reintegrated within their families and their communities. We discovered that not all children were going home and that a significant proportion who had being reunited were leaving their family home primarily due to the added economic burden they represented to their families and highly negative attitudes towards them from their peers and other community members. Those most vulnerable to family and community exclusion were the kotelengana and children demobilising with dependents.
Working with child protection community networks War Child aims to make reintegration more relevant by establishing income generating activities by giving these children livelihood grants to establish themselves as active members of the community. Starting with those who have the greatest responsibilities – those who have returned home with young partners and babies – War Child is allocating livelihoods grants in a effort to give these children agency in a society which has to date turned its back on them.
Join War Child for just £1 a week and help give Congo's many ex-child soldiers the opportunities they deserve as they grow up.
Visit the website: WAR CHILD
DANGEROUS LIFE FOR STREET CHILDREN IN IRAQ
For many children, the streets of Basra and Nasiriyah in Southern Iraq are a home and workplace. The risks posed to a child living on the streets of Basra are profound. The street offers a greater access to incidents of violence, working on them increases vulnerability to black marketers, the use of drugs and depressants such as petrol sniffing is extensive. Confrontation with the law is a regular occurrence: in places of heightened tensions, this often becomes ugly.
THIS IS WHAT WAR CHILD IS DOING ABOUT IT
In Basra and Nasiriyah War Child has worked with Nida' il-Tifl to establish drop-in centres which offer children safe havens in which to play. These centres are now fully operational and currently provide around 70 children with the opportunity to get off the street and to get the street out of their lives. The centres offer a range of activities from sport and exercise to the development of practical vocational skills such as mechanics.
Additionally those children suffering from the effects of trauma or drug addiction are able to receive counseling from specially trained staff. The centres also teach the children about the dangers which surround them on the streets, including the effects of landmines and unexploded munitions. The drop-in centres are currently funded by UNICEF and War Child Australia and in the future War Child hopes to use the results of, recently completed, participatory action research to develop further activities with the most vulnerable working children in Southern Iraq.
Ali is 16 year old. He attends the Basra centre and was recently interviewed for BBC’s Newsround:
"The American invasion had a huge impact on my family. The hospital was no longer able to receive medicines so my father died. My brothers returned to look after me, but I had to look for a job so I took to working on the streets. I had no time for any entertainment and little time to eat or the money to do so; I felt that I had lost my future.
In January this year I learnt of War Child's Open Centre in Basra, and have been attending literacy classes. Since joining the centre I have made some friends and we have taken up football again. I am one of the lucky ones – I’m not working on the street any more, and I feel safer every day."
Join War Child for just £1 a week and help give more children like Ali an opportunity to get off the street.
Visit the website: WAR CHILD
"WAR CHILD" RESCUES SOME CHILD SOLDIERS IN CONGO DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC
A brutal civil war has been raging in The Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996. No fewer than seven African countries have been involved since it started. So far, 3.8 million people -- men, women and children -- have died as a result of the bloody conflict either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and famine.
This is a war that continues to claim thousands of lives every month. It is a war about territory, ethnicity and resources, with its roots in, but not limited to, the genocide in Rwanda in 1995. It is a war that frequently descends to inhuman levels, the likes of which are uneasy reminders of the atrocities seen in Rwanda, and also in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
From the Guardian website:
“Armed militia groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo kidnapped hundreds of rival tribe members, tortured, mutilated, raped and decapitated their victims, and even boiled alive and ate two girls in front of their mother.”
This information was taken from a UN report in March 2005. Sadly, it didn't make it out of the internet into the Guardian proper – so the oxygen of publicity for these mind-boggling crimes was quickly exhausted. This is a common problem for those of us trying desperately to reveal the depth of horrors happening to people, and especially children in places like DRC. For example: how many people do you know who actually know where DRC is? Who know anything about the scale of conflict? Nevertheless, the situation is so appalling that the UN regard it as the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in recent decades. When you consider the horrific reports coming out of Darfur last Christmas, for DRC to be worse is almost unthinkable.
For children in DRC it gets worse. Far worse. Boys as young as eight are recruited to fight with promises of a new, attractive lifestyle that include clothing, three square meals a day, a routine and, far more sinisterly, access to guns, girls and drugs. Similarly, girls are recruited to “service” the older soldiers (we'll leave that to your imagination), join the front line, or act as porters or cooks.
But with your help War Child can offer hope of a better life. Take the case of Fiston. On the 10 August 2004, Fiston wakes up in barracks in Northern Congo. He has fought on the frontline many times and has committed appalling, unimaginable acts of violence, often against women and children. Brainwashed and completely desensitised to violence, Fiston was brutally recruited as a member of a rebel militia in 1999. He is 15 years old.
On this August morning he boards a transport plane and is set to fly East, to the front line, to face more horror. But something happens. Aid workers from War Child's partner organisation board the plane and in the face of threats from armed rebel generals and soldiers they take all the children off the plane. Fiston's life is about to change dramatically.
He and his fellow child soldiers are immediately enrolled into War Child's demobilisation and reintegration program. He is given food, shelter and counselling. Over the following months the long process of tracing his family and working with both Fiston and the village from which he came gradually paved the way for his return home. He now has a job and security. His life is still difficult and he has constant nightmares. But he also has hope.
Visit the website: WAR CHILD
ONE MILLION WAR ORPHANS AND 35,000 LAND MINE VICTIMS IN AFGHANISTAN
Afghanistan has suffered from such ongoing instability and conflict during its modern history that its economy and infrastructure are in ruins, and many of its people are refugees. It became a key Cold War battleground after thousands of Soviet troops intervened in 1979 to prop up a pro-communist regime, leading to a major confrontation that drew in the US and Afghanistan's neighbours. The country's protracted civil war dragged on long after Soviet forces withdrew.
In late 2001, the US accused Osama bin Laden of masterminding the bombing of their embassies in Africa in 1998 and the attacks on the US on 11th September 2001. After the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, the US initiated aerial attacks, paving the way for opposition groups to drive them from power.
Over twenty years of fighting has left more than a million children orphaned, about two million have been forced to flee their home and some thirty five thousand have become victims of landmines.
Many children have found themselves increasingly involved in criminal activity, and many now find themselves interned in adult prisons -- a direct contravention of the Convention on Child Rights. These are the children War Child is presently working with.
CHILDREN IN DETENTION
Rejected by parents and family members, many Afghan children try to survive on the streets by the means of petty crimes. Because of the chaos of the judicial system and a poor understanding of juvenile justice, these children are put into adult prisons; an unsuitable place for any child. Upon release, a strong social stigma results in many of these children being rejected by their families, leaving them with no carer. As a result children often re-offend and pass through the detention centre on a regular basis.
THIS IS WHAT WAR CHILD IS DOING ABOUT IT
War Child actively negotiates the release of these children and in 2005 succeeded in separating children held in detention with adults and housing them in a specific children’s detention centre. The centre offers access to educational material, art and sports equipment and they can take English lessons. War Child representatives visit the detention centre on a weekly basis and seek to reunite and reintegrate as many children as possible with their families.
Last year 500 children benefited from the project, including 20 children who are taken on a regular basis to visit their mothers in prison. Many of the boys have gone on to better things, some work in decent jobs; a few of the better off have continued their education. A recent War Child report revealed that many of the children have ambitious yet practical goals for the future. In response to children re-offending, War Child plans to establish a family liaison project and a rehab training centre.
You can help ensure the right for children affected by conflict to be who they want to be by joining War Child or making a donation.
Visit the website: WAR CHILD
SEXUAL ABUSE OF WOMEN AND GIRLS IN WAR
“I was defiled by some older boys [could not remember how many] when we were being marched to the rebel camp. After returning from Sudan, I was a wife to one rebel commander, then another junior commander and then two 'older' rebel soldiers. I had one child who died when he was a few days old. I was a slave to the rebels for 19 months. I do not think I will marry again.”
[A girl, abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army]
Women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence in times of heightened armed conflict. They are being raped, abducted for sexual exploitation and forced into marriages and prostitution. Refugee and internally displaced women and children are especially vulnerable to sexual and other exploitation by armed forces and groups, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers.
Reports from Iraq and southeast Afghanistan indicate that fear of sexual violence is keeping girls out of schools. During her visit to Democratic Republic of Congo in May 2003, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator reported on the situation of over 250 women and girls in South Kivu who required surgical interventions to repair the ravages of rape. Similarly, in Burundi, hundreds of girls have been raped either as a means of ethnic cleansing or because violators believe that children are less likely to transmit diseases.
There is a correlation between the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexual violence and exploitation of girls and women in corridors of wars. UNAIDS estimates that rates of HIV among combatants are three to four times higher than those among local populations. And when rape is used as a weapon of war, the consequences for girls and women are often deadly. Armed conflict also exacerbates other conditions in which HIV/AIDS thrives, such as extreme poverty, displacement and separation. Programmes for HIV/AIDS awareness, care and support in both peace operations and humanitarian programmes should be continued and strengthened.
The IASC Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has proposed six core principles to be incorporated into codes of conduct for all humanitarian workers. These principles have now been incorporated into codes of conduct in MONUC and UNAMSIL. My forthcoming Bulletin will extend the application of the six principles to all UN personnel.
The Rome Statute of the ICC defines rape and other grave sexual violence as a war crime. Everything must be done to bring to justice those responsible for this particular war crime.
CHILDREN VICTIMS OF WAR
GIRLS ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE IN TIMES OF WAR
There is still little awareness of the extreme suffering that armed conflict inflicts on girls or the many roles girls are often forced to play during conflict and long after. Girls are often abducted for sexual and other purposes by armed groups and forces. They face a variety of threats, including rape and forced prostitution. The work of the Special Rapporteur on systematic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices during armed conflict and that of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women have drawn attention to the human rights violations, including sexual slavery, which are perpetrated against women and girls in times of armed conflict.
The United Nations Population Fund has documented the frequent reports of trafficking in women and girls in Kosovo. During the war in Sierra Leone, women and girls were subjected to systematic rape and sexual abuse. These experiences often result in psychosocial scars, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
The social stigma attached to girls' experiences makes them reluctant to seek medical assistance or emotional support. They are often not adequately catered for in post-conflict Educational and vocational training opportunities. Their special needs are rarely provided for in demobilization and reintegration programs. Unaccompanied or orphaned girls are at greater risk of sexual abuse. As a result of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, an estimated 45,000 households were headed by children, 90 per cent of them girls. However, under Rwandan law, girls could not inherit land.
Following his visit to Rwanda in February 1999, and building on the earlier work of several non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict engaged in a dialogue with the Government, urging them to introduce legislation that would allow girls to inherit farms and other properties. In November 1999, the Government did enact legislation to this effect.
The United Nations system is addressing the needs of girls affected by armed conflict in several ways. The Department for Disarmament Affairs, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), UNICEF, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Division for the Advancement of Women are collaborating on issues of gender and disarmament and will pay particular attention to the plight of female Child Soldiers. The results of a study by the Quaker United Nations Office on the experiences and needs of female Child Soldiers has provided badly needed information required for program planning.
The training of United Nations peacekeeping staff will include the gender-related provisions of human rights and humanitarian law. Moreover, all United Nations personnel in the field, whether in humanitarian, development or peacekeeping roles, in peacetime or conflict situations, will be expected to adhere to a strict code of conduct that requires dignified and respectful interaction with all elements of the civilian population. Allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse attributed to United Nations personnel will be swiftly investigated.
More fundamentally, the facade of Impunity for the perpetrators of Sexual Violence against children in wartime is finally crumbling. The International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have obtained several convictions for Sexual Violence and rape. A recent case tried by the Tribunal for Rwanda resulted in a conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity for acts that included the rape of a very young girl. As noted above, particularly grave forms of Sexual Violence, including rape, sexual slavery and enforced prostitution, constitute war crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Gender issues are being addressed throughout the procedures that will govern the Court, largely owing to the efforts of non-governmental organizations such as the Women's Gender Justice Caucus, supported by UNIFEM.
Visit the website: CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT
WOMEN AND CHILDREN ARE THE MAIN VICTIMS OF WAR IN SIERRA LEONE
By Davidson Jonah, Regional Field Operations Manager for Africa, Christian Children’s Fund.
A major effect of the war was the creation of chaos, resulting in the mass movement of people from one part of the country to the other, then to neighboring countries and other parts of the world.
Forced migration and displacements, family incapacity and separation, lack of appropriate information, hazardous and oppressive work (forced child labor), Institutional violation and neglect became prevalent in all parts of the country.
Life was disrupted through brutal killings, accompanied by a loss of belongings through arson and looting. In the process, women and girls were raped, while children and youth were exposed to horrific scenes, molestation, drugs, banditry, abduction and forced recruitment into the armed forces
[Picture: A 14-year-old girl holds her son, she had been abducted by the insurgency as a wife then bearing a child from one of the soldiers.]
The emotional, physical, health and psychological well being of most children and families were affected as a result of the conflict. They became victims of injuries from gunshots and machetes, abductions, indoctrination, rape, torture and sex abuse.
The resource base of the country was completely crippled and put the national economy in shambles resulting in a total collapse of the productive sectors and high unemployment. This scenario engendered a state of inertia in which everyone was left groping for survival. A daily hand-to-mouth existence became a reality for thousands of Sierra Leoneans, especially the rural poor whose very existence was constantly threatened.
The most vulnerable groups, women children and youth were been hardest hit. Women whose significant contributions to household food production and incomes experienced enough traumas that rendered them helpless and poor. The destruction of health infrastructure, pervading insecurity for local health staff and the resultant halt to community level health services had further impact on the well-being of new born children and their mothers.
Food security, a problem rural farmers have been grappling with a long time before the war, became more acute. Inadequate supplies of seeds, poor management of produce, large numbers of people living in a household, and poor yields were the result of adverse environmental factors which affected both household food supply and seed stocks. The agricultural sector was at an all time low the worst in the history of Sierra Leone. Farmers who managed to cultivate some small amount of produce despite all the danger that surrounded them lost their produce through systematic looting by fighting forces.
Education: The literacy rate dropped because many children did not go to school as a result of the war and the consequent displacement of families and communities. The few camp schools that existed did not have proper teaching materials.
IRAQ WAR MAY BREED A NEW GENERATION OF VIOLENT YOUTHS
[USA TODAY, Baghdad, April 16, 2007]
Ahmed Al-Khaffaji, 6, refused to leave his house for nearly a year after shrapnel from a mortar shell ripped through his left arm, rendering it useless. Hussain Haider was only 5 when he stopped speaking after watching his father slowly bleed to death on the living room floor of the family's Sadr City home.
Iraqi psychiatrists worry about the long-term consequences of a generation that has been constantly exposed to explosions, gunfights, kidnappings and sectarian murders. "Some of these children are time bombs," said Said al-Hashimi, a psychiatrist who teaches at Mustansiriya Medical School.
Mental health professionals such as al-Hashimi say that there is a chronic shortage of trained psychiatrists and that schools are the front line for treating traumatized children. Ahmed's skin was badly scarred, and he suffered burns on both legs when a mortar round slammed into his family's south Baghdad home on Jan. 1, 2006.
His mother, Safia Hussain Ali, said that for nearly a year afterward, her son feared leaving the house and often refused to eat. Today, Ahmed attends school, but his behavior occasionally regresses, and he retreats from reality. "Sometimes he refuses to eat and just wants to watch TV or play video games," Ali said.
Haider al-Malaki, 40, a psychiatrist at the government-run Ibn Rushd Hospital, said he has treated children as young as 6 with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he has also seen children with sleeping and eating disorders that can be traced to the violence.
"They have all experienced some kind of psychological trauma, whether they witnessed a murder or survived a kidnapping attempt," al-Malaki said. "When they witness violence, they're more likely to display aggressive and reckless behavior" later.
Al-Hashimi said he is concerned Iraqi children could become the next generation of fighters and fuel violence for years to come. Because of what they are living through as youngsters, "they may think it's better to martyr themselves for religion or country," he said.
Al-Hashimi set up a workshop this year to help teachers and school officials deal with students suffering from war-related trauma. He urges educators to get kids to release their emotions through activities such as academic competitions and soccer games.
"Schools in hot areas are still functioning," he said, referring to volatile Baghdad neighborhoods. "Unfortunately, many people don't know how to handle the children in this situation."
Attacks on or near schools have forced Iraqi teachers and other school staff to try to protect their students. "Children are very perceptive of teachers' moods and actions," said Hadoon Waleed, a psychology professor at Baghdad University. "It's very important that teachers are trained to handle their students during stressful situations."
Fawad Al-Kaisi, 59, headmaster at the Al-Hurriyah primary school in south Baghdad, said his staff has learned through experience. "When explosions go off in the area, the students become very nervous," Al-Kaisi said. "We try our best to create a positive environment to make them feel safe."
Like others among Iraq's professional elite, psychiatrists are scarce, in part because they have been targets of kidnappers and assassins. Al-Malaki, the psychiatrist at Ibn Rushd, survived two bullet wounds in his right arm from an assassination attempt in his clinic last year. He is among the few psychiatrists who have remained in Iraq and continued to work. The Iraqi Society of Psychiatrists estimates at least 140 of the country's 200 psychiatrists were killed or have fled the country in the past four years.
LITTLE HELP AVAILABLE
A shortage of psychiatric facilities further limits the availability of mental health care. Ibn Rushd is the only government-funded psychiatric hospital in Baghdad, a city of 6 million people.
For Hussain Haider, now 7, and other children, the need is urgent. He stopped speaking for months after his father was killed in a crossfire between fighters of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia group, and U.S. forces April 6, 2004. His mother, Thuraya Jabbar, said his grades have fallen, and he is awakened frequently by nightmares.
"He starts crying whenever we start speaking about his father," she said.
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