News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Child soldiers forgotten in Angola

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7397.1003 (Published 10 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1003
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. London

    A year after the end of Angola's devastating civil war, the needs of underage combatants have been neglected and children have been excluded from demobilisation programmes. This is the warning in a new report by Human Rights Watch, which campaigns to defend human rights worldwide.

    The report cautions: “The infrastructure of the country lies in ruins with schools and health clinics destroyed and few qualified professionals to deliver services. The success of child soldier reintegration projects will be contingent on the government's increase of funding to provide basic services to all Angolans.”

    Both the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the government used child soldiers in the war, says the report. As many as 11 000 children were involved in the last years of the fighting. Some children received training in use of weapons and arms and fought in the conflict; others acted as porters, cooks, spies, and labourers.

    “These boys and girls have been victimised twice. First, they were robbed of their childhood as soldiers, and now they are denied access to government demobilisation programmes,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Tony Tate.

    Child soldiers have received no direct assistance and rehabilitation, in contravention of Angola's treaty obligations, he said. Existing community based programmes make no provisions for child soldiers, he said, adding that “programmes must be established that provide for their specific needs based on their experiences as soldiers in the war.”

    The World Bank has granted $33m (£20m; €29m) to help the government with the rehabilitation of former combatants. But a larger portion of this grant should be channelled to help child soldiers, who must first be identified if any tangible assistance is to reach them, said Mr Tate.

    “In Angola we have a chance to learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that these children are fully reintegrated into society,” he said, adding that too many past programmes, such as those in Sierra Leone and Sudan, concentrated only on the initial stages of demobilisation and disarmament. “With the World Bank grant we have the ideal opportunity to plan long term reintegration,” he contended.

    “The child soldier demobilisation issues raised [in the report] highlight a general problem of chronic underfunding for child demobilisation programmes. Child soldier reintegration remains the poor relative of post conflict reconstruction,” said Casey Kelso, coordinator of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

    The coalition says that about a third of the world's 300 000 child soldiers are to be found in Africa. “Demobilising child soldiers must be recognised as an integral part of peace building, increasing the prospects for long term peace and development in post-conflict situations,” urged Mr Kelso.

    Forgotten Fighters: Child Soldiers in Angola can be accessed at www.hrw.org/reports/2003/angola0403/ and the website of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers is www.child-soldiers.org

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