The Fate of Child Soldiers in Chad

28/5/2010 – In a couple weeks time, Chad will host a regional conference discussing the strategies for combating and remedying the use of child soldiers. Many fear that the abrupt ending of the MINURCAT peacekeeping mission may have an effect on human security in the region.

On June 7 to June 9, UNICEF and the Chadian government hold a conference on the recruitment and reintegration of child soldiers in the city of N’Djamena. The conference takes place in two weeks, only shortly after the UN recently announced that it will withdraw its peacekeepers from Chad.

The government has recently ordered the removal of the 3 300-person force known as MINURCAT (also operating in the Central African Republic), as it has decided that its own police and military forces can contain any problems now—having built up their capacity. However, some human rights groups fear that MINURCAT departure could leave a “security vacuum” and leave refugees, displaced people, the 102,000 severely malnourished children and other victims of extreme poverty and hunger—and perhaps even child soldiers—vulnerable.

Chad and UNICEF signed an agreement in which the country agreed to expedite the reintegration of child soldiers from armed groups back into civilian society. Chad is also a signatory to the Paris Principles.

The Paris Principles affirm the necessity of “taking a child rights-based approach to the problem of children associated with armed forces or armed groups . . . [they] underscore the humanitarian imperative to seek the unconditional release of children from armed forces  or armed groups at all  times, even in the midst of conflict and for the duration of the conflict.”

Currently, programs operate out of N’Djamena, where children rescued and separated from armed groups are taken to live in transition social centres; here, they receive psychosocial counselling and help facilitating their return to society.  It cannot be understated how difficult returning to civilian life is for former child soldiers, who are trained to kill and becomes used to having a gun—which become their sources of power, respect and survival. The works of such survivors as Sierra Leonean Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier have helped to illuminate this reality. In the past three years, these programs have helped 800 women.

Years and years of violent conflict and civil war have seen hundreds of thousands of children in Chad abducted or recruited into non-state armed groups.  Today, there remain an estimated 700 000 to 10 000 child soldiers living in the country, reports UNICEF. Each day, children oppressed by poverty, abandonment, and a lack of opportunities become vulnerable to those who would use them as soldiers.