CHILD SOLDIERS RETURNING TO NORMAL LIFE
BY Paul Ndiho
June 3, 2010
A series of civil wars in Chad has led to thousands of children being caught up in the conflict, mainly in the country’s eastern region. Estimates put the number of child soldiers in the country at more than 10,000. Reporter Paul Ndiho looks at how some former child soldiers are trying to return to normal life.
Child soldiers in Africa have captured world attention. In Chad, thousands of children are kidnapped by armies and forced to fight. Many were already orphaned by years of civil war, and they find a new kind of family in the military. A new UN report says children are still being recruited and used in combat by Chad’s government and rebel forces. Some children are abducted — others join voluntarily. Anthony Lake is UNICEF’s executive director:
“Children forced into unimaginable servitude by adults who regard them not as human lives to be nurtured but as objects to be used for unspeakable purposes.”
In 2007, an agreement was signed between UNICEF and the government of Chad to step up efforts to get children out of armed groups and back into society.
“There is a proportion of these people who have actually been trained to kill. A proportion of them actually killed enemies. It’s very difficult to overcome the psycho- social aspect of this trauma and get them back to a normal life that was poor.”
Under the agreement, the National army now vets all recruits. Those identified as being under the age of 18 are sent to rehabilitation centers in the capital Ndjamena. There, these former child solders receive education and psychological care, and are taught new skills to help them integrate back into society. So far, more than 800 children have gone through this process. The former child solders carry the burden of separation from families and are often plagued by horrendous memories. Former child soldier Dowa Samna:
“During the six months we were tortured on the side of the road, I was hurt here and here and here and on my arm. I was also hurt and injured on my head.”
Nineteen year-old Souleymane Adoum Izak now works at a hotel in N’Djamena, a huge change from the seven years he spent fighting with a rebel group in eastern Chad. He says that when he first joined the armed group, most of the rebels were aged between 10 and 14. He has found his second home here at the rehabilitation center, but normal life remains a huge challenge.
“Because you’re young and you’re trained and you spend all your time with rebels, you still feel the need to fight all the time, even though you’re a civilian. You always feel the need to fight with people.”
Human rights activists say that returning to normal life is very difficult for former child soldiers. Souleymane and others like him now have a new take on life. Employment is key – being able to earn a living and take care of basic needs. But even as these former child soldiers attempt to fit back into society, social workers say their psychological return to normal life can be a far longer journey.